By Aya Elamroussi and Taylor Ward, CNN
More than 50 million people were under winter weather alerts, stretching from Arizona to Maine.
“This system is forecast to produce heavy snow over parts of the Ohio Valley and interior eastern U.S. beginning Friday night and continuing through Saturday,” the Weather Prediction Center said. “Heavy snow, gusty winds and severely reduced visibility will make for hazardous to difficult driving conditions and travel at times, particularly across the interior Northeast.”
“Significant impacts due to heavy snow rates and accumulations are possible from the Tennessee Valley through the Central Appalachians and into much of the interior Northeast,” the National Weather Service said Wednesday.
In the Midwest, snow began falling overnight Wednesday into Thursday in northwest Missouri and eastern Kansas, the National Weather Service in Kansas City said in a tweet.
A wide swath of heavy snowfall has already fallen across much of Colorado and Kansas, with the greatest totals of 8 to 13 inches falling over western Kansas, along interstate 70. To the east, Topeka, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, had picked up 3 to 5 inches as of Thursday afternoon.
The NWS in Kansas City warned due to snowy weather, the commute Thursday will be messy. In anticipation of those conditions, schools in Kansas City announced they would close Thursday.
In Colorado, the Denver airport dropped to -7 degrees Thursday morning, marking the coldest March morning since 1960 and beating the previous March 10 record by 4 degrees. This cold air will be widespread over the eastern US for the next several days.
Areas along the eastern Rockies and Northern Plains will see temperatures 25 to 35 degrees below normal. Half a dozen other locations could end up with their coldest daily high temperatures across the western US.
Storm heads toward Northeast and South
As the storm travels to the east, it’s expected to strengthen into a bomb cyclone.
A bomb cyclone occurs when a mid-latitude cyclone decreases in pressure by 24 millibars in under 24 hours, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These strong storms lead to many hazards — but the most notable can be the extreme winds.
The winds, combined with heavy snowfall, will create blizzard-like conditions across the interior Northeast, where a foot or more snow could fall.
“All model guidance has surface wave (the storm) rapidly intensifying as it tracks somewhere between the I-95 corridor to Cape Cod, then along or just off the Maine coast as a sub 970 millibar low,” the National Weather Service in Boston said.
A 970 millibar low would be equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.
“We’re expecting a heavier wet snow. Widespread 6 to 12 inches with possible 15-inch totals,” Marvin Boyd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont, told CNN. “Our concern is with the loading on trees. With winds expected to blow 35 to 45 mph, and this heavy wet snow, we could be looking at not only travel problems but numerous power outages.”
Behind this storm system, arctic air will filter all the way into the Southern, a shock to the system for many.
On Friday, everywhere from Minnesota down through Texas will see temperatures 20-30 degrees below normal. By Saturday, unseasonably cold air will stretch all the way from Michigan down to the Gulf Coast. Cities such as Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, will likely wake up Saturday morning below freezing.
For many of these Southern states, the growing season has already started due to unusually warmer air over previous weeks. This could result in agricultural damage from this weekend’s deep freeze.
“Given the recent warm conditions we’ve had, the quick return of freezing temperatures could stress plants and animals,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham said.
“This is one of the dangers of the ‘longer growing seasons’ and ‘earlier spring’ brought on by climate change,” said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
By Sunday, temperatures are expected to rebound back to normal, or even above normal, across the central US, while the eastern US remains about 10-15 degrees below normal.
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CNN’s Caitlin Kaiser, Chad Myers, Jennifer Gray, and Tom Sater contributed to this report.