Strong wind, storms could create travel problems Wednesday morning

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A powerhouse late autumn storm will bring rain and damaging wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph to the Chicago area as people hit the road for the Thanksgiving break Wednesday, and a storm moving in this weekend could pose a risk of heavy snow north of Chicago and rain to the south.

As many as 55 million are predicted to head out on the roads and over 4.5 million will travel by air around the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA, making it the second busiest period the agency has tracked since 2000.

Weather is a critical factor in such an environment, and there are two storms expected to impact the country. Heavy snows threaten a wide swath of the country, from the central and northern Rockies into the central Plains into the Upper Midwest. Rain is predicted for Chicago with the first storm, commencing Tuesday afternoon and continuing much of Tuesday night.

But the high wind arriving with that system appears to be its greatest threat. A classic high wind wind situation is coming together, with powerful winds stacked vertically through the storm’s southern flank, where there’s a tendency for powerful upper level winds to mix down to the surface, producing especially powerful wind gusts.

The current read on this system is that winds of  50mph are possible, meeting the level that’s recognized as the point at which damage can be done. That’s why the National Weather Service issued a High Wind Watch for most of the region through Wednesday afternoon.

As that’s happening here in the Chicago area, 6″ to 12″ snows are likely to accumulate amid howling “NE” winds across northern Wisconsin, sections of Minnesota and across Upper Michigan. This is likely to make for nightmarish travel, if travel’s possible at all in those areas.

Meantime, a second storm described as potentially historic by forecasters is headed towards the West Coast, making landfall near the California/Oregon border Tuesday night. Snowfalls in California’s Sierra are predicted to reach 2-3 ft., while the coastline is battered by 30 to 35 ft waves.

This second storm reaches Chicago late in the week and into this weekend. Forecast scenarios for our area are varied, with rain possibly switching over to snow or a wintry mix at some point Saturday/Sunday. But it appears a second major snowstorm could be headed for the Plains and Upper Midwest.


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