Children dream and carolers sing of white Christmases, but they’re not wishing for the kind of messy, potentially destructive winter storm that’s expected to sweep across the eastern half of the United States on Christmas Eve.
Heavy snow and blizzard conditions in the Great Plains on Wednesday will be the leading edge of what the National Weather Service described as a “wide range of hazardous weather” expected through Christmas Day, disrupting holiday travel and potentially blacking out twinkling lights all the way to the East Coast. Tornadoes are even possible in Florida.
Some utilities are already canceling the holiday for power crews, anticipating that they could be needed to restore electricity — “a tough decision clearly,” said Reid Lamberty, a spokesman for Eversource Energy in New England, “but it was a necessary decision because of the timing of the storm.”
Bitter cold and considerable snowfall is expected on Thursday in much of the middle part of the country, including the Upper Midwest and eastern Ohio River Valley, while heavy rain and flooding is forecast for Christmas Eve in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.
Wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour in the New York area on Thursday night have the potential to cause scattered tree damage and power outages, forecasters said, while heavy rainfall could flood roadways on Christmas morning, making travel perilous. But temperatures are likely to remain too high around New York City for the rain to freeze over.
That won’t be true in parts of the South, which are predicted to see below-average holiday temperatures. Knoxville, Tenn., could see its first significant Christmas snowfall — anywhere from one to three inches — for the first time since 2010, said Rick Garuckas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn.
“It will be a very cold Christmas for a lot of people,” Mr. Garuckas said.
The storms could disrupt air travel, especially in the Midwest. Despite warnings from the federal government that Americans should stay put this Christmas, airports are expected to be busy, though not nearly as crowded as they would be for a pre-pandemic holiday. More than a million travelers a day passed through airport security last weekend, about half as many as on the same dates in 2019.
In Florida, thunderstorms are expected across the state on Thursday, potentially spawning tornadoes. Temperatures are expected to drop sharply, from a high near 80 in the Jacksonville area into the 30s overnight, with wind chill making it feel even colder.
The Arctic air will flow down from the Upper Midwest. In parts of Minnesota, heavy snow and temperatures falling into the teens are likely to result in a flash freeze Wednesday night.
As in New York City, New England expects mostly heavy winds and rain. Central Maine Power company suggested people take standard precautions for potential power outages, including having flashlights, fresh batteries, full drinking water containers and a three-day supply of nonperishable food on hand. (It was unclear if fruitcake qualified.)
Eversource, which serves about 4.3 million people in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, plans to bring in crews from Canada and Pennsylvania to help, said Mr. Lamberty, the company spokesman.
“We’ve been tracking this storm for days now,” he said. “We have nothing short of an army out there, a small army, to make sure that we can get power restored and repair any damage.”