Weekend Forecast: Winter storm strands 1,000 near Grand Canyon, delays Travelers

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Some 1,000 people were stranded without heat or power in a small Arizona town near the Grand Canyon on Friday during a major winter storm that threatened to disrupt travel for millions as it moves east one day after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Town Council of Tusayan, just south of Grand Canyon National Park, declared a state of emergency early on Friday morning, citing the power outage and nearly two feet (60 cm) of snow that has made roads impassable.

“We are working to arrange emergency shelter at the National Park, in buses, and at other locations,” said Mayor Craig Sanderson said in a written statement.

“We are working with the County Emergency Management team, Arizona Department of Transportation, (Arizona Public Service) and the National Park Service with a priority on clearing roads,” Sanderson said.

More than 1,000 residents and tourists were stranded in Tusayan, along State Route 64, as of Friday evening, the mayor said and shelters had been set up inside the national park.

The National Weather Service said on Twitter snow had been reported “all the way down at the bottom” of the Grand Canyon.

“Getting the roads open is the main thing we need,” Sanderson said. “The County and (Arizona Department of Transportation) are working to make it possible to safely travel State Route 64.”

The weather service forecast more than a foot (30 cm) of snow across mountain areas of Colorado, Utah and Arizona on Friday before the storm system moves east into the U.S. upper Midwest.

Freezing rain was expected to turn into snowy blizzards in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan beginning on Friday night, with more than 18 inches (46 cm) of snowfall possible in some mountainous areas, the service said.

Some snow could appear in the Northeast by Sunday morning, the weather service said. New York City and other areas further down the Atlantic Coast could expect a wintry mix of precipitation on Sunday.

More than 4 million Americans were expected to fly and another 49 million expected to drive at least 50 miles (80 km) or more this week for Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association.

Wintry weather disrupted travel this week ahead of Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago reporting hundreds of delayed or canceled flights.

Powerhouse storm with heavy snow and wind to interfere with Thanksgiving return travel.

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The storm will affect a huge region from the Desert Southwest to the Northeast.

Yes, really. The third major storm this week is bound to instigate another round of travel woes as millions of Americans return home from the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend.

The powerful storm has the potential to bring heavy snow to a sprawling region from the intermountain West through the Plains all the way to the Great Lakes and New England. The storm, which has already prompted winter storm and blizzard warnings from Arizona to Wisconsin, will blast east over the next several days, setting the stage for the Northeast’s first major snowstorm of the season.

Storm taking shape over the Desert Southwest and Intermountain West
The storm is developing over the Desert Southwest, energized by the same dip in the jet stream that spawned the Pacific “bomb cyclone” earlier this week. A rare line of severe storms barreled across the California-Arizona state line Thursday night, unleashing a 73 mph wind near Golden Valley, Ariz. The storms also brought heavy rainfall, prompting flash flood warnings near Phoenix.

At higher elevations, precipitation is falling as heavy snow. At elevations as low as 2,000 to 2,500 feet, heavy snow fell in the high terrain of the Southern California desert Thursday.

In Arizona, Flagstaff is forecast to pick up to 15 inches by Friday night, while some mountain passes to the south could flirt with the two-foot mark.

As the storm slips north of the Four Corners on Friday evening and emerges over the Sand Hills of Nebraska by early Saturday, several communities in high elevations throughout the Rockies could see more than a foot of snow. Heavy snows are expected Friday night in sections of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and southeast Montana.

High Plains and Plains
The action gets underway across the High Plains on Friday, evolving as an icy mix of precipitation that eventually changes to blinding snow.

Light freezing rain and freezing drizzle ongoing Friday morning over much of northeast Colorado and Nebraska will sneak north into South Dakota later in the day before spilling into northwest Iowa and southwestern Minnesota. A thin glaze is possible, icing over untreated roadways before the snow even starts to fall.

The snow will break out by 7 or 8 p.m. Friday, perhaps first in South Dakota, before expanding to include northern Nebraska, North Dakota and western Minnesota by midnight Friday night. Snowfall rates topping an inch per hour will be possible at times very late Friday night until well into Saturday.

Accompanying the snow are strong winds, likely to exceed 50 or 60 mph in some areas. Blizzard warnings are up in eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska north of Highway 2 and western South Dakota including the Badlands through Saturday night. The visibility may drop to a quarter-mile at times as blowing snow brings near whiteout conditions. This is unlikely to affect Interstate 80 but could impact Highway 26 in Wyoming and Nebraska, as well as Intestate 90 through South Dakota.

Upper Midwest and Great Lakes
Minneapolis will be right along the southern edge of where substantial snow is possible. Just a county or two north of Minneapolis, accumulations will reach warning levels, closing in on six inches or more. But in the Twin Cities, the current forecast calls for 3 to 5 inches. A winter storm watch is in effect.

Uncertainty lies within the temperatures; Minneapolis is predicted to be on the edge of the snow/mixed precipitation line with marginal temperatures, so any fluctuations could have a bearing on how much snow is realized.

In Wisconsin, most of the snow looks to fall north of Appleton and Green Bay. Milwaukee is anticipated to begin as mixed precipitation or sleet Saturday, quickly transitioning to a cold rain that will last off and on through Sunday night. Madison is expected to see a wintry mix late Friday turn to rain on Saturday before perhaps ending as snow on Sunday.

A New England nor’easter

Bands of snow are possible from the Tug Hull Plateau in New York State to the Hudson Valley by late Sunday, with some six inch-plus totals possible when all is said and done on Monday.

But the real action will be focused in Southern New England, where precipitation moves in Sunday evening. Sunday night and much of Monday will then feature moderate to at times heavy snow.

Two zones of locally heavy snow are possible. One will stretch from east of the Berkshires from northern Massachusetts down to west central Connecticut.

The other zone of heavy snow depends on where the storm’s coastal front sets up, which will determine the whereabouts of the rain/snow line. A strip of heavier snow is typical west of that boundary.

The Boston-to-Providence corridor may end up along this dividing line, with 5 to 8 inches possible west of there and localized 10-inch amounts. That may end up being in the Blackstone Valley.

To the east, where rain and sleet may mix with snow, 3 to 5 inches are possible, except one to four in eastern Bristol and Plymouth counties. The Cape and Islands may not see much more than a few flakes.