ST. LOUIS (AP) — A stew of foul weather, ranging from freezing rain and snow in the Midwest to thunderstorms and possible tornadoes in the South, is arriving just in time for one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
Forecasters said thunderstorms will develop in the South thanks to a surge of warm, humid air. The region most at peril is from central and northeastern Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and southeast Missouri.
Wind gusts could reach 80 mph, and flash flooding is possible.
Much of the nation is bracing for something: Freezing rain, then 6 inches of snow, is possible in the northern Plains; torrential rains are expected in the Appalachian region; weekend thunderstorms in the South could spawn twisters.
It's all moving into the East, too, creating travel worries in the days leading up to Christmas from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will suspend most lane closures over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to reduce congestion.
VDOT will lift lane closures on most interstates and other major roads in Virginia from noon Tuesday, Dec. 24, until noon Thursday, Dec. 26.
Lane closures will be lifted again from noon Tuesday, Dec. 31, until noon Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.
“We want residents and visitors in Virginia to end the old year and start the new year in a safe manner,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “Allow extra travel time this holiday season as you drive, limit distractions and be courteous to your fellow motorists. I always check 511Virginia before starting a trip to see what I’ll encounter on the road ahead, and I encourage all travelers to use this online, phone and mobile tool to plan their drive.”
AAA projects that nearly 95 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday period, which runs from Saturday through Jan. 1.
The winter storm will mark an abrupt change for many. Temperatures were in the 60s in parts of the Midwest on Thursday. By Friday morning, freezing rain was closing schools and creating travel problems in Michigan and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said Interstate 90/94 was ice-covered from Tomah and Mauston. The state was bracing for significant snow, sleet and ice.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for eastern Missouri, including St. Louis, with up to 4 inches of rain projected. With falling temperatures, some of that could be freezing rain by Saturday night, weather service meteorologist Jon Carney said.
"It's definitely a concern that there could be flooding," Carney said.
By Sunday night, the storm systems will be hammering the East Coast. AccuWeather said some New England and mid-Atlantic states could see rare winter thunderstorms.