This storm system begins with its first threat over the Rockies, as intense bands of snowfall will dump feet of powder across Colorado and Wyoming.
Dangerous travel conditions will exist across portions of interstates 25, 70, and 80 — so drivers are urged to use extreme caution.
This slow-moving system has the potential to produce the biggest snowfall in decades for the eastern Rockies and western Plains through the weekend.
But that’s just one side of the system. The south and eastern sides of the system — which will be pulling in warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico — will be fueling several days of severe storms, with the possibility of tornadoes.
Nearly 20 million people will be under the threat for severe storms at some point Friday through Sunday across half a dozen states with damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes.
In addition to all that, the cold front will eventually stall across the Southern Plains, resulting in heavy rain over much of the same region throughout the next couple of days which will lead to flooding.
Here is what to expect and when.
Friday morning the snow begins to pick up. Throughout the day the snow bands will become more frequent across Colorado and Wyoming and travel conditions will continue to deteriorate.
While there are still some uncertainties at play, the general message from the NWS office in Boulder, Colorado is for 1-3 feet of snow for much of their forecast area.
Colorado is not the only state expecting intense snowfall accumulations. Eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska and even parts of southern South Dakota will likely see over a foot of snow through the weekend.
A severe threat is also expected to develop Friday across parts of west Texas and western Oklahoma.
Both the severe and snow sides of this system will intensify further during the weekend.
By Saturday, it will be snowing intensely along the Front Range of the Rockies and moving into the western Plains.
This area is no stranger to March snowfalls. In fact, March is actually the snowiest month of the year for portions of Colorado and Wyoming. In Denver, each of their top 10 March snowstorms totals over a foot of snow. This year could be added to that list, as historic totals are not out of the question.
Travel will also be very difficult Saturday. Whiteout conditions will lead to very low visibility and causing poor driving conditions. People are urged to stay home if they can.
“Snowfall rates of nearly 3 inches per hour in the foothills in the forecast Saturday night which means travel would be impossible,” the NWS in Boulder said. “Boulder and Fort Collins could see snowfall rates of around 2 inches per hour during this period.”
The severe storm threat also begins to increase today. The areas with the greatest threat for severe weather Saturday will be Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Abilene, Texas and Wichita, Kansas.
The threats themselves remain the same as Friday — damaging winds, large hail and isolated tornadoes. The difference is the location and intensity of the storms. The system — slowly — shifts to the east.
The timeline for best severe chances looks to be in the afternoon and early evening. While some of the severe storm threat does decrease overnight, it will not diminish entirely. Power outages are possible.
There is still some uncertainty over whether all necessary ingredients will be present for robust severe weather, particularly across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on Saturday and Sunday.
By Sunday, the storm system basically becomes stationary over far southeastern Colorado and western Kansas. This will weaken the system’s impact on snowfall rates which are expected to begin to decrease substantially throughout the day. However, drivers are still urged to take caution as roadways are still expected to be very dangerous.
While the snow may begin to slow, the severe threat certainly does not — it just changes locations.
Sunday, the severe storms push east into Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana.
One thing that could limit severe potential would be cloud cover. However, any breaks of sunshine would allow for an increase in instability.
The other growing concern for Sunday will be the threat for flooding, particularly across portions of Missouri, Kansas and Illinois — where flood watches already exist.
Other states — such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Indiana — also have the potential for flooding, especially if storms begin to train over the same locations.
Widespread rainfall totals through Sunday are expected to be in the 2-4 inch range, but some isolated spots could exceed 6 inches total.