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Weather forecasts for the Upper Midwest could hardly be worse for what traditionally is the busiest travel day of the year: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
The powerful storm system already wreaked havoc Tuesday as it traveled from the West into the Midwest, prompting highways to shut down in Wyoming and Colorado, flight cancellations in Denver and school closures in Nebraska.
In Wisconsin, the storm is projected to deliver winds gusting as high as 55 miles per hour and heavy rain — perhaps accompanied by thunder — to southern Wisconsin Tuesday night into Wednesday, while in northern and west-central Wisconsin up to a foot of snow will fall with strong winds gusting to 35 mph.
The storm will move from Colorado and Nebraska into Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, tracking almost directly over the Madison area, putting the heaviest snow to the north and west.
Early Tuesday evening, snow had already made its way into Minnesota, and was expected to rapidly develop across southern Minnesota, then spread northeastward into central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin through midnight, the National Weather Service said.
A winter storm warning is in effect for much of northern and west-central Wisconsin until noon Wednesday, while a wind advisory is in effect for most of southern Wisconsin from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“Conditions will likely deteriorate quickly across northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota into Wisconsin, during the evening” AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys said Tuesday.
Travel to be ‘chaotic’
AAA predicts that the number of travelers over a five-day stretch beginning Wednesday will be the second-highest on record, behind only 2005, despite rising costs for a road trip.
The latest road conditions for Wisconsin are available at the state’s 511 website or app.
In Colorado, the same storm forced closures of long stretches of two major highways Tuesday. Parts of another major highway in Wyoming were buried under snowdrifts of up to 4 feet, officials said.
La Crosse is right on the transition line between rain and snow, and could see no snow or as much as 2 inches, while Wausau could see 3 to 7 inches, Eau Claire 4 to 8 inches, Rhinelander 5 to 10 inches, Hayward 6 to 11 inches, and Ashland 8 to 14 inches, the Weather Service said.
Wisconsin Dells could see an inch, but Madison should see mostly rain with a slight chance of rain mixing with snow in the afternoon Wednesday.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area could see its biggest November snowfall in nearly a decade, and travel in northwestern Wisconsin “is going to be chaotic,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brent Hewett told The Associated Press.
After a similar dumping of snow in Denver Tuesday, more than 1,000 travelers were forced to sleep overnight in the airport after hundreds of flights were canceled.
But at the airport in Minneapolis, most of the snow is expected to fall overnight when few flights are scheduled.
“The timing is very helpful,” said Erik Snell, a Delta senior vice president who oversees operations. “It gives the airport time to clear the runways, although we’ll have to watch the residual snowfall in the morning.”
Officials with the Dane County Regional Airport could not be reached Tuesday for comment on whether flights there were at risk of cancellation or delay Wednesday.
Parade balloons affected
The storm also could mean disappointment for fans of the larger-than-life balloons that are flown at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
Organizers of the parade were preparing for the possibility that they’ll have to ground the iconic balloon characters with 40- to 50-mph gusts in the forecast.
Rules put in place after several people were injured by a balloon years ago require lower altitudes or full removal if sustained winds exceed 23 mph and gusts exceed 34 mph. The decision will be made on the day of the parade.
In Madison, there’s a 40% chance of precipitation Wednesday, mainly in the morning and early afternoon and a chance of mixing with snow after 1 p.m. with temperatures expected to fall to around 33 by 5 p.m.
Winds are expected to start at 15 to 20 mph in the morning, then rise to 25 to 30 mph in the afternoon, with gusts as high as 45 mph.
After a low overnight Wednesday into Thanksgiving around 26, winds are expected to ease after midnight after gusting to 35 mph. Thanksgiving should be mostly cloudy, with a high near 36 and winds at 5 to 10 mph.
As of Tuesday evening, snow was not in Madison’s forecast for Thanksgiving at any point during the day.
Chances for precipitation in Madison return with a 60% chance for rain and snow during the day on Friday, with most of it expected to become rain after 1 p.m. A 90% chance of rain and snow is forecast for Friday night into Saturday, becoming all rain after 5 a.m., with one-quarter to a half of an inch possible.
There’s a 90% chance of rain Saturday during the day, 80% for rain and snow Saturday night, 60% for rain and snow Sunday, and 20% for snow Sunday night.
The Associated Press and State Journal reporter Emily Hamer contributed to this report.