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Snowstorm Headed For Heart of Drought Region

A major snowstorm is poised to deliver much-needed precipitation to areas from central and southern California to the Rockies and Plains states during the next several days. Parts of Kansas and Nebraska — ground zero for the worst drought conditions in the U.S. — may pick up more than a foot of snow by the time the storm ends there late Thursday.

Probability that 6 inches or more of snow will accumulate between Wednesday and Thursday morning across the U.S. 
Credit: NOAA/NWS.

While the storm is not expected to deliver blockbuster snow totals, any precipitation — be it in the form of rain, snow, or the often dreaded “wintry mix” — will be a welcome sight in much of the West and Plains.

According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, 77 percent of Nebraska is experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions, the most severe category. In Kansas, that figure is lower but still quite high, at 36 percent of the state.

More than a foot of snow is predicted along the I-80 corridor in central Nebraska, down to the I-70 corridor in Kansas. A foot or more of snow is also possible in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where snowpack has been running at about 75 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the California Cooperative Snow Surveys.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows widespread drought in the West, Southwest, and Plains, including several states that will see snow from this storm.
Click the image for a larger version. Credit: National Drought Mitigation Center.

While welcome news, the storm will not deliver nearly enough precipitation to end the drought. Typically, a 10-inch snowstorm would be equivalent to about 1 inch of liquid precipitation, and many parts of Nebraska and Kansas need more than 12 inches of rain to overcome their long-term precipitation deficit. In addition, most of the snow is predicted to fall in central and southern Nebraska, bypassing the northern and eastern parts of the state, which are locked in exceptional drought conditions.

In addition to the Plains states, the storm is also forecast to bring significant snow to the mountains of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, which will be a boon to skiers. Heavy snow is also forecast to fall in Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota, before the storm weakens and heads for the Midwest. Chicago is expected to see its largest snowstorm of the winter so far, with 2-to-4 inches predicted.

In addition, the storm may set off a severe thunderstorm outbreak across the South as warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico clashes with cold, dry air moving southward from Canada. Sleet and freezing rain also threaten to disrupt travel in areas just to the south and east of the heaviest snowfall, across Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, in particular.

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