Wild weather forecast: Feet of snow in the West; severe storms in central USA, milder East

Doyle Rice

A big change in the weather is on tap for much of the USA over the next few days.

A potent, winter-like storm is poised to slam into the western USA, bringing several feet of snow to the Sierra and soaking rain to coastal and valley areas.

A potentially dangerous stretch of severe weather is forecast to wallop 18 states in the central USA over the next several days and into next week – and tornadoes are a possibility.

Finally, after a stretch of chilly, raw, March-like weather in the East, much warmer air will pour into the region over the next few days, bringing a real taste of spring by the weekend.

Wintry West

In the West, a storm more typical of winter will bring everything from rain and thunderstorms to wind and mountain snow, AccuWeather said. The storm will make for slower-than-normal travel, ruin outdoor plans and increase the risk of flooding and damage in some communities.

"This storm will bring unusually heavy rainfall and a flooding and mudslide threat to parts of California in what is normally a dry month," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston.

Up to 5 inches of rain is possible in some areas. This amount of rain is "extremely out of the ordinary" for this time of year, AccuWeather said.

In the Sierra, "total snow accumulations of 12 to 18 inches, with localized amounts up to 35 inches, are expected," the National Weather Service in Sacramento said. AccuWeather warned that "travelers through the high terrain should use extreme caution as roadways will be slippery and snow covered with lane restrictions possible."

44 million in path of severe storms

Severe weather will be the main concern for millions of people in the central USA by week's end and into the weekend. 

 Devastating thunderstorms with tornadoes, damaging winds, large hail and flooding rain will batter the central and southern Plains on Friday, lasting into early next week, Weather.com warned. 

AccuWeather said the outbreak will put at least 18 different states in the path of dangerous weather over the next several days. About 44 million people live in the risk zone for severe thunderstorms.

The first widespread round of severe weather, which may evolve into a significant outbreak, is forecast to begin from eastern New Mexico and western Texas to southeastern Wyoming and southern South Dakota on Friday.

The repeating rounds of thunderstorms and the heavy rain they contain are likely to elevate the risk of urban and small stream flooding, AccuWeather said.

Tranquil Great Lakes, East

After an extended stretch of dreary, March-like conditions, sunnier, warmer weather will spread into the Great Lakes states and portions of the East Coast. 

A change in the jet stream should be enough to allow a warmup to progress from the Midwest to the Northeast, AccuWeather said. Highs in the 30s, 40s and 50s will be replaced by highs mainly in the 60s and 70s.

At the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on Saturday, "a bright and beautiful day is forecast," according to AccuWeather, which expects  temperatures in the low 70s.  This will be a welcome change from the sodden Kentucky Derby in Louisville two weeks ago.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wild weather forecast: Feet of snow in the West; severe storms in central USA, milder East