Peoria, Ill. (WMBD) — The Winter Storm Watch has been upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning which is in effect from Thursday morning through late Friday night for a storm that will bring widespread accumulating snow and strong winds to Central Illinois.

Key Takeaways

  • Bulk of the snow falls Thursday from late morning through late afternoon
  • Sharp drop in temperatures could lead to a flash freeze Thursday afternoon
  • 40-50 MPH wind gusts possible Thursday night and Friday
    • Ground blizzard conditions with widespread blowing and drifting snow
  • Bitter cold and dangerous wind chills between -20° and -30° expected Friday

The biggest change in the forecast over the last 24 hour is that the storm looks to move through Central Illinois quicker, keeping snowfall totals somewhat in check. However, the overall impacts from the storm remain unchanged as 40-50 mph wind gusts are still expected to develop behind the front resulting in a significant amount of blowing and drifting snow creating blizzard-like conditions across Central Illinois.

Keep in mind, the criteria for a blizzard are wind speeds or frequent wind gusts up to 35 mph and visibility reduced to a quarter mile or less due to blowing snow for at least 3 hours. Heavy snow is not a requirement, and doesn’t need to be falling for a storm to be considered a blizzard.

Snowfall Timing and Amounts

Snow is expected to develop by mid-morning Thursday and continue through late afternoon and early evening. A quick burst of snow is expected as the system rolls through resulting in a quick 2-5 inches of accumulation across much of Central Illinois. Higher amounts are possible along and east of a Bloomington to Kewanee line where snow is expected to linger well into Thursday evening. A few snow showers are possible Friday but the biggest issue then will blowing snow from snow that is already on the ground.

While these snowfall totals fall well below the typical criteria for a Winter Storm Watch, it’s combination of snow and blowing snow that make this a highly impactful event. At the end of the day these snow accumulations do not really matter. Whether you see 3 inches of snow or 6 inches of snow, strong winds will create whiteout conditions Thursday night and Friday over much of the area.

Sharp Temperature Drop

Temperatures are expected to start off in the upper 20s and lower 30s in the morning but drop into the teens and single digits by early afternoon. The sudden drop in temperatures will lead to a flash freeze that cause wet roads to ice up and allow snow to stick to the pavement quickly. This will lead to hazardous travel conditions across Central Illinois by early afternoon.

Strong Winds & Blizzard-Like Conditions

Winds will become gusty Thursday afternoon behind the cold front with frequent gusts of 20-30 mph expected through sunset. As the snow tapers off, wind speeds will become stronger and occasionally gust between 30-40 mph. This will lead to widespread blowing and drifting snow, resulting in blizzard-like conditions across the region. Winds will increase more Friday with frequent gusts of 40-50 mph with blowing and drifting snow continuing.

Frigid Temperatures & Dangerous Wind Chills

Arctic air will push into Central Illinois Thursday with the worst of the cold settling across the region on Friday and Saturday. High temperatures both days will be in the single digits with lows below zero. Wind chill values Thursday night, Friday, and Friday night are expected to drop near -20° but could drop below -30° at times.

The storm could also produce power outages which could make it difficult for households to stay warm as the frigid temperatures move into the area.

An interesting note – The current forecast for Christmas Day calls for highs in the upper single digits and lower teens. This would make this the coldest Christmas Day since the mid 1980s.

What Can You Do Now?

While confidence is high that accumulating snow and high winds will impact Central Illinois, confidence is still somewhat low in just how much snow will accumulate. We’ll make additional adjustments to the forecast as needed but at the end of the day, with the strong winds in place, the overall impacts remain the same. Here’s what you can do to prepare…

  • Prepare for holiday travel impacts on Thursday and Friday
    • Change your travel time to avoid traveling those days
  • Locate cold weather gear such as a heavy coat, hat, gloves, scarfs, snow boots, and snow pants
  • Cover exterior spigots and exposed pipes
  • Put an emergency kit in your vehicle and gas it up before the storm arrives
  • Continue to monitor the latest forecast from a reliable source