Storm to deliver everything but snow to southeastern U.S. prior to Christmas

Alex Sosnowski

A storm taking shape across the southeastern United States will bring with it heavy rain, stiff winds and thunderstorms into Monday.

The combination of wind, rain and cool air from the Southern nor'easter will make for miserable travel and last-minute shopping conditions in the region and could spoil early Christmas vacations for snowbirds.

A nor'easter is a non-tropical storm that produces northeasterly coastal winds. Snow does not have to develop, but rain and rough seas are often characteristics.

"The exact track of the slow-moving storm will determine where the heaviest rain and strongest winds occur but the effects of this storm will be far-reaching over the Southeast states," AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Travis said.

Even though parts of the Southeast are experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, this storm has the potential to not only cause urban flooding but also trigger flooding in low-lying areas and along small streams.

From 2 to 4 inches of rain is forecast from near Interstate 10 to as far north as I-20 and as far west as I-65 in Alabama. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 8 inches is most likely in southeastern Georgia, coastal South Carolina and perhaps part of the Florida Peninsula.

Rain first developed across eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi early on Saturday morning before spreading north and east. While periods of rain will continue in this area through Sunday night, rain will be more intermittent for the duration of the storm.

Rainfall will ramp up across Alabama, western Florida and Georgia as the storm travels toward the Atlantic coast. Rain reached as far to the northwest as Nashville, Tennessee, and can graze the Virginia/North Carolina border.

The difference in pressure between the strengthening storm and an area of high pressure along the mid-Atlantic coast will continue to bring stiff winds with strong gusts.

Northeasterly winds will buffet the Southeast coast and will extend well inland. Gusts to 40 mph can occur as far west as the southern Appalachians. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 50 mph is forecast along the coast from Georgia to North Carolina. Gusts this strong can break tree limbs and dislodge power lines.

The action of wind on the ocean will push water toward the coast faster than it can escape the beaches, back bays and tidal rivers from northeastern Florida to eastern North Carolina and perhaps southeastern Virginia. For this reason, a storm surge is anticipated on the order of 1-2 feet with local water level departures from normal as high as 3 feet. Water levels this high can lead to coastal flooding on some of the barrier islands, but also on the mainland, including in places such as Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina.

For those spending time on the beach early this week, the circulation around the storm will stir the surf. Rip currents will pose a danger as they will be stronger and more frequent than typical beach days from the Gulf coast to the southern Atlantic coast.

High surf advisories are in effect along the east coast of Florida, and they are likely to expand up the Southeast coast in the coming days.

Meteorologists warn that motorists should be prepared for wet weather with poor visibility and excess water on the roads. Traveling at the posted speed limits and close behind other vehicles could be dangerous with the expected conditions.

Enough rain, wind and low cloud ceiling can lead to airline delays, especially at the major hubs of Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Another factor with the storm will be thunderstorms in the warm sector. Thunderstorms are likely to erupt along the immediate northeastern Gulf coast and across the Florida Peninsula, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.

Thunderstorms are likely to be heavy and gusty at the local level.

AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that some of the storms can become severe and spawn isolated tornadoes and waterspouts.

"While it's possible a few severe storms get going, extensive cloud cover and a large distance from the center of the storm and South Florida should limit the number of violent storms," according to AccuWeather Expert Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.

Regardless of severe weather threats, lightning could pose dangers for those spending time outdoors.

The storm is forecast to slip eastward from later Monday to Tuesday. Rain will retreat toward the coast and then offshore. Winds and seas are forecast to gradually subside along the southern Atlantic coast from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day.

As sunny weather returns to the Southeast, temperatures will rebound to above-average levels for late December. Following AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s F during the storm, afternoon RealFeel® Temperatures will bounce back be into the 60s, 70s and lower 80s in the storm's wake by Christmas Day.

Because the ground is now wet over the Southeast and clear and calm conditions are anticipated for several days, the risk of fog will increase and could be dense enough to slow travel this week at times.

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