By Allison Chinchar, CNN Meteorologist
March may mean the arrival of spring, but Mother Nature doesn’t always get that memo. This weekend’s weather will include snow, tornadoes and the chance for fires across the United States.
“A strong storm system will move from the southwestern US through the Midwest this weekend, spreading critical fire weather, snow and even the potential for severe weather along its path,” said Chad Myers, CNN meteorologist.
Severe storms are expected for 50 million people in the Mid-South and the Midwest, which usually experiences fewer such events this time of year. The main threats include damaging winds, though a few tornadoes and hail are also possible.
Iowa, including Des Moines, can expect severe storms Saturday, mainly in the afternoon and evening. Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; and Madison, Wisconsin, also could see severe storms Saturday.
“It is rare to get severe weather that far north this early in the year, but it is not unprecedented,” said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center. “It certainly doesn’t happen every year.”
Typically in March, severe weather is focused over the Gulf Coast states, from Texas to Florida. For example, Texas averages 11 tornadoes in March, while Iowa typically only sees two.
By Sunday, the severe storms will shift south, with the greatest threats from Paducah, Kentucky, back to Dallas. Those storms are mostly likely to hit from late afternoon Sunday into Monday morning, with a few tornadoes possible, along with damaging winds.
While most places will not see a tremendous amount of rain, flooding will still be a concern in areas along the Ohio River Valley, particularly in Kentucky, where the ground is still moist from a very wet February. With several rivers still above flood stage, weekend rainfall could prolong flooding on main rivers and renew it on smaller creeks and streams.
The weekend’s interesting weather setup owes to a cold front producing winter weather in the northern Plains and Upper Midwest. As the front dives south into the Mississippi River Valley, it will encounter temperatures 20 to 30 degrees above normal.
“The abnormally warm air mass that has set up this week will allow the ‘warm sector’ of the storm (which will feature the thunderstorms and potential for severe weather) to extend all the way up to Iowa and southern Minnesota, which is unusually far north for this early in the spring,” said Brandon Miller, CNN meteorologist.
Winter isn’t over yet
Meanwhile, some parts of the Upper Midwest — where temperatures still feel more like winter — will have to deal with snow, sleet and freezing rain.
“Saturday will not be the ideal day to drive,” the National Weather Service office in Marquette, Michigan, tweeted.
Areas of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota will see a variety of precipitation types over the weekend. Many places will get a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain on Saturday morning before transitioning to rain or freezing rain as the temperature warms up through the afternoon.
By Saturday night into Sunday morning, the precipitation will change back to snow and sleet as temperatures drop below freezing again.
This will be a relatively fast-moving system, without a lot of time to dump a significant amount of snow. Most areas of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will pick up 2 to 5 inches, with isolated spots of 6-8 inches.
From Kansas City up to Milwaukee and east to Knoxville, Tennessee, temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees above normal Saturday. Once the front moves through, those temperatures will drop sharply.
For example, Chicago will go from a high-temperature Saturday in the mid-60s all the way down Monday to highs in the mid-30s, with a chance of snow showers.
St. Louis will see a similar drop, going from the mid-70s for a high Saturday all the way down Monday to highs in the mid-40s.
Heat and wind could trigger fires
Further west, elevated and critical fire weather conditions are expected this weekend across Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“Winds of 20-30 mph are expected with locally higher speeds possible,” according to the Storm Prediction Center. “Relative humidity of 15-20% is probable, though values near 10% are not out of the question.”
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued a declaration of disaster emergency Thursday “due to the potential for wildland fires in the state on Friday and Saturday,” according to a news release.
“Strong winds and low relative humidity with an abundance of dry vegetation will once again cause extreme fire danger across central Kansas Saturday afternoon,” according to the National Weather Service Office in Topeka.
Kelly urged “all Kansans to be vigilant.”
Unseasonably warm temperatures that began Friday in the Southern Plains will shift east and south over the weekend.
Record high temperatures are possible in over 40 cities from Mississippi to Massachusetts this weekend, but it does not last long. By Wednesday, most cities return to either normal or below normal temperatures and stay there through the rest of the week.
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