Updated Dec 26, 2023 - Science

Blizzard leaves travel in the Plains "difficult to impossible"

First responders along the I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln, Nebraska.

First responders work along the I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln, Nebraska on Dec. 25. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol

A "significant" winter storm that's lashing a large portion of the north-central U.S. will continue through Wednesday, after much of the country experienced "unusually mild" temperatures with no white Christmas.

The big picture: That's according to the National Weather Service, which said preliminary data suggests new high December temperature records have been set in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

  • As much of the U.S. experienced high winter temperatures, the NWS warned a strengthening low-pressure system would impact parts of the Plains and Upper Midwest with blizzard conditions, heavy snow, freezing rain and strong winds through Tuesday night.
  • Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, and South Dakota on Tuesday, the NWS said. Some of these warnings will last though Tuesday night. Others remain in effect until early Wednesday.

State of play: In parts of South Dakota, NWS warned of 3-8 inches of snow and winds of up to 50 miles per hour, per the NWS. Up to 12 inches of snow were expected along the Cheyenne Ridge in Wyoming.

  • Portions of South Dakota and Nebraska had received 8-12 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, while 1-3" were expected in Denver on Tuesday, according to the NWS and NOAA.
  • Heavy snow and strong winds, with gusts up to 55 mph were leading to blizzard conditions in South Dakota and Nebraska, while a "significant freezing rain event" continued in the Dakotas. Travel was "difficult to impossible" in affected areas, the NWS said in a Tuesday afternoon forecast discussion.
  • Impact on air travel was moderate on Tuesday, with 3,302 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. delayed and only 94 canceled, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Nebraska State Patrol on X
Photo: Nebraska State Patrol/X

In South Dakota, lanes on the I-90 was reopened on Tuesday after being closed Christmas Day due to the weather, the state's Department of Transportation said.

  • Nebraska State Patrol said that it had responded to more than 100 weather-related accidents on Christmas Day, including trucks sliding in the snow on I-80 on Christmas morning.
  • NWS Omaha warned on X Tuesday that "treacherous travel" conditions were persisting in central and western parts of the state.

Meanwhile, much of the U.S. was experiencing above-average temperatures for the holiday season, including along the East Coast and in the West.

  • Parts of the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and interior Northeast will see "anomalously warm" temperatures upwards of 10 to 20 degrees above average on Tuesday and Wednesday, NWS said.

Of note: The NWS' Green Bay office said in a post to X that at least eight sites had unofficially set or tied record high temperatures for Christmas Day as of 10am Monday — including Antigo, Green Bay, Marshfield, Merrill, Rhinelander, Stevens Point, Wausau, and Wisconsin Rapids.

  • In Minnesota, Rochester hit a Dec. 25 record high of 53°F, according to preliminary NWS data.

Zoom out: Canada has also been experiencing an unseasonably warm winter.

  • In Alberta, officials said at least 10 new high-temperature records had been set in the province on Friday — including in Taber, which hit 14.9°C (59°F). One week earlier, Toronto hit a record high of 13.2°C (56°F).
  • In the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan, CBC reports that the town of Radisson was struggling to keep its natural ice rink solid due to the warm winter.

Between the lines: Environment and Climate Change Canada and other agencies say El Niño and human-caused climate change are contributing factors for the unseasonably warm temperatures.

  • Climate Central's Climate Shift Index found record warmth is at least twice as likely now compared to the preindustrial era.

In photos: Blizzard conditions snarl traffic in the Plains

Truck slides off the highway due to icy conditions
A truck on the I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln, Nebraska on Dec. 25. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol
Trucks and cars along Nebraska's I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln on Dec. 25. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol
Trucks and cars along the I-80
Vehicles travel along Nebraska's I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln on Dec. 25. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol
Trucks that skidded off the highway
Trucks skid off the road along Nebraska's I-80 between Grand Island and Lincoln on Dec. 25. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol
Trucks traveling along a snowy highway in nebraska
Photo: Nebraska State Patrol/X

Go deeper: Our winters are warming faster than our summers

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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