Blizzard warnings were issued for more two million people across the United States this week, some in places you’d expect, like Minnesota, and some in places you probably would not, like the mountains around Los Angeles.
Almost all of the country is experiencing some form of notable weather this week, meteorologists said. While much of the eastern half of North America is basking in springlike weather, a major winter storm was taking hold of the western half, from Southern California to Toronto.
As the storm strengthened its grip on Wednesday, it was promising a mixed bag of wintry weather — strong winds, heavy snow, frigid temperatures and freezing rain. It was likely to disrupt travel on the roads and had already heavily affected air travel.
More than 1,300 flights were canceled and more than 1,900 were delayed early in the day, according to the tracking service FlightAware. About 400 flights were canceled to and from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, it said. At Denver International Airport, more than 200 arriving and outgoing flights were canceled, and several hundred were delayed.
About 300 flights arriving at or departing from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport were affected early on Wednesday, most of them canceled.
Travelers were advised to check with their airlines about how their flights would be affected.
The storm represented one of the biggest tests of Southwest Airlines’s network after the carrier made changes in response to a holiday meltdown that forced it to cancel thousands of flights. By midday Wednesday, Southwest had canceled about 6 percent of flights planned for the day, second to Delta Air Lines, which canceled about 8 percent of its schedule. About 7 percent of Southwest’s flights were delayed, tied with American Airlines, and behind United Airlines and Delta, according to FlightAware. It was unclear exactly how many of the cancellations and delays were a direct result of the weather.
By the morning, the Twin Cities and surrounding areas had already received three to five inches and could receive another nine to 12 inches of snow, with some locally higher amounts near 15 inches. Those storm totals — close to if not slightly above 20 inches — would support calling this event a historic one, forecasters at the weather office wrote Wednesday morning.
“Minnesotans are no strangers to extreme weather, but this storm could break records,” Gov. Tim Walz said on Twitter on Wednesday.
A rare blizzard warning for Los Angeles County
Snow in the Southern California mountains is not uncommon but when the forecast calls for a blizzard, it makes people wonder if it is some kind of mistake. But forecasters say a blizzard isn’t unheard-of in the region. It just hasn’t happened for a while.
The National Weather Service in Los Angeles issued a winter storm warning for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties until early Friday. A rare blizzard warning, for the same areas, will take over from Friday through Saturday.
This isn’t the first blizzard warning ever issued by the Los Angeles National Weather Service office, but it has been decades since the last one. The forecast office’s historical records only go back to 2006, so its forecasters, more accustomed to issuing high surf advisories and flash flood warnings, were unsure of when they last issued a blizzard warning.
Forecasters in Los Angeles described the storm affecting that region as cold and dangerous and predicted up to seven feet of snow in areas more than 6,000 feet above sea level. Lesser amounts, between one and four inches, were expected in elevations of less than 2,500 feet. Areas along the coast and valleys could see a few inches of rain.
“This is shaping up to be a very unusual event in certain places, especially, and the impacts are probably going to be really substantial,” Dr. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A., said in a video on Tuesday.
The lower elevation snow will mean that this could be the largest amount of 24-48 hour snowfall seen in decades — likely since a 1989 snowstorm that snarled traffic — for the Ventura and Los Angeles County mountains, forecasters said.
“Everything is adding up for a major snow event,” said Andrew Rorke, a senior forecaster for the Los Angeles National Weather Service office.
Dr. Swain said that the weather will escalate on Thursday and Friday, when colder air moves in over the state. Snow is expected across low elevations “all the way from the Oregon border to the Mexican border,” he said, forecasting that many Californians will be able to see snow on the nearby hills on Friday morning.
A person standing in downtown Los Angeles can see a 10,600 foot peak that will typically have snow on it, Mr. Rorke said. By Saturday that snow will be much lower on the nearby mountain, showing more snow than a typical winter storm.
But don’t expect the Hollywood sign to be lost in snow-covered hillside.
“The Hollywood Hills are saved from snow, but the San Gabriels behind the Hollywood side are certainly not,” Mr. Rorke said.
Los Angeles is surrounded by mountains, and when they get heavy snow, passage through them shuts down.
“In 1989 they were closed for two days,” Mr. Rorke said. “I think we’re a little bit better prepared for that today. But still, any hourlong closure of our highways causes a huge traffic impact.” Winds will increase with gusts exceeding 55 miles per hour with the second phase of this storm on Friday, which is what prompted the blizzard warnings.
Strong winds were already causing power failures across the state. About 100,000 electricity customers in California — more than half of them in the San Francisco Bay Area — were without power on Wednesday morning. The utility Pacific Gas & Electric said that winds were affecting electrical equipment. The Weather Service office in San Francisco reported that powerful winds had downed trees and damaged roofs.
What’s in store for the Midwest
Heavy snow and strong winds that developed over the Northern Rockies on Tuesday will push east across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest on Wednesday, meteorologists said. Over a foot of snow is forecast from South Dakota through parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Snow totals could reach two feet in southern Minnesota, where the heaviest snow and blizzard conditions could develop late Wednesday. Governor Walz said that residents should plan to limit their travel.
“The second round that is really the main event of the storm, if you will, and that’ll commence on early to midafternoon, from South to North,” said Joseph Calderone, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities.
Blizzard warnings were in place for people living just west of the Twin Cities and across large portions of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Significant ice accumulations were expected in parts of Michigan, according to the Weather Service office in Detroit. Freezing rain, sleet and snow were also predicted to fall in the region.
School districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and other states braced for the ice storm, with some canceling classes and after-school activities on Wednesday. Linking to the National Weather Service’s warnings of a “massive” winter storm, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Waukesha and Washington County campuses were closed because of the weather forecast, but classes were held in its Milwaukee campus.
In Michigan, Lincoln Park Public Schools canceled classes and evening activities. More than 66 schools closed or were delayed in Iowa, WCCI-TV reported.
“FREEZING RAIN will be a major impact of this winter storm!” the Environment and Climate Change Ontario Office wrote on Twitter. The afternoon and evening commute could be significantly impacted in places like Toronto they said.
Even for places used to winter weather and driving on snow, ice on the road can often cause even the most experienced driver to have problems.
Parts of the Northeast will also see snow this week.
While the storm was expected to slam the Upper Midwest, it was also forecast to bring snow to a portion of the Northeast later in the week. A winter storm watch was in effect for parts of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
Heavier snow totals of up to a foot were likely for higher elevations, like the Adirondacks and the Green and White Mountains, the Weather Service said. Lighter accumulations of up to four inches were predicted for the lower elevations across upstate New York and central New England.
Areas along the East Coast appear to be left out of the winter-weather equation this time, as they have been much of this winter. New York City and other major cities along the Interstate 95 corridor are experiencing some of their least snowy seasons in the past 50 years. On Thursday, temperatures are expected to be more than 40 degrees above average in the Mid-Atlantic region and will feel more like June than February. Richmond, Va., is expected to reach into the low 80s.