Midwest, Northeast in for a rude awakening as winter returns

Mary Gilbert
·6 min read

Following a seasonable and dry start to the week, portions of the central and eastern United States are bracing for a wintry spell that may leave some residents wondering if the calendar flipped back to wintertime.

Old Man Winter has already taken the stage for his wintry encore. A storm and associated cold front that blanketed much of the Rockies with snow from Saturday night to Monday night began to track farther east Tuesday. A swath of snow will ultimately stretch from the central Plains through portions of the Great Lakes and into the Northeast.

Snow that reached portions of the central Plains overnight Monday continued into the afternoon hours on Tuesday across a large swath of Missouri. During Tuesday afternoon, snow began to fall on parts of southern Michigan and overtook much of northern Ohio during the evening hours.

Due to the quick-moving nature of the storm across the Plains and Great Lakes, snowfall will be limited in terms of just how much can accumulate.

This radar snapshot, taken at 9 a.m. EDT, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, shows snow (blue) falling across the interior Northeast. (AccuWeather)

As snow spreads farther east, so too will a punch of much colder air. Arctic air that brought temperatures crashing down across the Rockies and north-central U.S. to begin the week will send temperatures tumbling throughout the Plains and Great Lakes.

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The blast of cold air in the wake of this system may helped snowfall accumulate on roadways or other paved surfaces for a short time during the day Tuesday. However, any considerable accumulation was be grassy, non-paved surfaces. A potent April sun angle is a true foe of the snow, helping any snowy roadways to melt rather quickly despite the cold air.

Cities likely in the path of at least some accumulating snow include Springfield, Illinois; Indianapolis and South Bend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; and Detroit. Major hubs on the outskirts of this storm like Chicago and St. Louis had flakes flying in the air, but they received under an inch of snow.

The National Weather Service (NWS) measured 1 inch of snow on non-paved surfaces at their Romeoville, Illinois, office just southwest of Chicago during the midday hours on Tuesday. Farther west at midday, a trained NWS storm spotter measured 6 inches of snow in Osborne County, Kansas, located in the north-central part of the state.

Detroit has received snowfall totals of 3 inches or more 10 times in April or May according to historical observations that go back to 1874. The city's record for latest measurable snowfall on record is 2.7 inches from May 22, 1883. A normal April snowfall total for the Motor City is 1.7 inches. This storm dropped 3.3 inches in the city.

The latest occurrence of measurable snow for Indianapolis was May 9, 1923, when 0.9 of an inch fell. Since 1871, it has snowed 2 inches or more 14 times in April or May in the city. A normal April snowfall amount is only 0.2 of an inch in the city. This system dumped 2 inches in Indianapolis.

Chicago's record for the latest occurrence of measurable snow on record is May 11, 1966, when 0.2 of an inch fell. Historical late-season snowfall occurred in the city the past two years, when 2.5 inches fell on April 27, 2019, and 3 inches on April 17, 2020. Normal April snowfall for Chicago is around 1.2 inches. Officially, only a trace of snow fell with this event.

The better opportunity for snow to accumulate and stick around longer on paved surfaces came as the storm pushes across lakes Erie and Ontario and into portions of the Northeast Tuesday night.

"The air mass is unusually cold for this time of year and the snow rates will be heavy Tuesday night, allowing snow to more readily accumulate on pavement without the influence of the sun," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski explained.

Portions of northern Ohio, far northwestern Pennsylvania, western New York and the Lake Erie shoreline of Ontario, Canada, are areas AccuWeather forecasters point to as at the greatest risk for higher snow totals into Wednesday morning.

"Although pavement temperatures are often warm enough to prevent significant snow accumulation this time of year, this storm could be different with respect to the Wednesday morning commute in some cities," Pydynowski cautioned.

Slippery and slushy conditions may stick around for the Wednesday morning commute in cities like Cleveland, Erie, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, and Toronto, Canada.

The 3-6 inches of snow forecast for the Cleveland area is uncommon for this late in the year. The National Weather Service in Cleveland said that there have only been two instances in which the city has received a 2-inch snowfall event on or after April 21. Those occasions were May 6, 1974, when exactly 2 inches fell, and April 23-25, 2005, when a storm unloaded 12.4 inches on the city.

On Wednesday and Wednesday night, snow will overspread more of the Northeast. Generally, the greatest snowfall totals from this storm are forecast to occur for the highest elevations of upstate New York, portions of Maine, and into Canada, including parts of southern Quebec.

Snow will linger across portions of Maine and Quebec Thursday as the storm pushes into Atlantic Canada. Snow amounts up to an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 20 inches are most likely in these snow-prone areas.

As snow comes to an end across portions of the Plains and Midwest, frigid air will make its presence felt. As of early Wednesday morning, Indianapolis had fallen to 27 degrees, breaking the record low of 28 degrees set in 1907. Regardless of how many additional records fall, temperatures will be nearly 20 degrees below normal on Wednesday morning for many of these locations.

Freeze warnings stretched from parts of southeastern New Mexico up through northern Texas and all the way to Michigan as of Wednesday afternoon.

The cold will eventually make its way across much of the Eastern Seaboard. Chilly air will pour into the Ohio Valley and Northeast even as snow winds down later Wednesday night.

Generally, temperatures will be between 10 and 20 degrees below normal from Wednesday to Friday. Even areas from the Gulf Coast and Southeast up to the mid-Atlantic will feel the chill from midweek into the weekend.

After the storm pushes out of the Northeast and into Atlantic Canada to end the week, dry conditions will be the norm for much of the East. However, chilly air will persist into the start of the weekend across the East as high pressure builds and continues to pull unseasonably cool air southward out of Canada.

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