Heavy rain, flash frost and freezing chilly: wild climate on the best way to the DC space

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While a powerful storm system is creating a blizzard in the Great Lakes region, it will bring unsettled weather patterns to the DC area. The biggest impact of the system will be the brutally cold air that will sweep through the region on Friday morning. When snow showers pass or the road surface is wet, the roads can quickly freeze and the region can experience icy driving.

Before that, the region will see mostly rain, although our colder locations may see a very brief wintry mix on Thursday morning at the storm’s front end. Winter weather warnings have been issued for the potential of less than 1 inch of snow and a light layer of ice for western Loudoun and Frederick counties and locations west of them.

The rain could be heavy at times, prompting flood monitoring by the National Weather Service from Thursday morning through Thursday night.

Winter storm to unleash dangerous blizzard, high winds and arctic cold

After the pouring rain on Thursday comes a winter shock. A mega cold front will blast the region Friday morning, causing temperatures to drop towards the teens around the 40s by evening. This arctic onslaught will make for the region’s iciest December weather since at least 2004 and the coldest Christmas since 1989.

This is what awaits you at the weekend:

  • This is a protracted event, including heavy rain on Thursday followed by a rapid drop in temperature on Friday and cold weather over the weekend.
  • Slippery patches are possible Thursday morning, especially far west and north of the city.
  • Rain falls for most of Thursday and will be intermittently heavy from midday into evening.
  • A major cold front will sweep through Friday morning, sending temperatures back 35 to 40 degrees in 24 hours and possibly bringing snow showers and a flash freeze.
  • It will be the coldest two-day Christmas Day since 1989, with wind showers near zero on Christmas Eve morning.

Most of the precipitation on Thursday will be rain. Rainfall totals of about 1.5 inches should be common in the DC area, with some spots near 2 inches.

4:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Thursday: Rain should be in from the west, moving primarily to areas west of Interstate 95. A very light layer of ice is possible, mainly in elevated areas far west and north of the Beltway, possibly after a coating of snow.

7am – 1pm Thursday: Rain should cover the rest of the area with some patchy freezing rain in the west. It may be late morning before temperatures top 32 degrees west of Route 15 (from Warrenton via Leesburg to Frederick). Temperatures are expected to rise into the 30s elsewhere, with rain increasing in coverage and intensity by early afternoon.

1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Thursday: Frequent rainy spells should continue, at times heavy. There could be a rumble of thunder. Temperatures in our colder areas in the North West are expected to rise to nearly 40 degrees in the South and South East by the mid 50’s. There can be strong winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour.

7pm Thursday to 7am Friday: Late evening is expected to be rainy with winds should ease slightly. Much of the night could be dry, but showers are a growing risk towards dawn. Temperatures should remain mild into the night before cooling to 40 degrees at sunrise.

We’ll probably wake up on Friday with temperatures close to 40 degrees and that may be as high as they’re going to be for a while. Between 7am and 10am an arctic front will sweep through with increasing winds and falling temperatures.

“The onset of strong winds with the arrival of the front could be quite sudden and dramatic,” said Capital Weather Gang severe weather expert Jeff Halverson. “Since the ground is very wet from the rain, isolated tree falls and isolated power failures are possible.”

Some snow or mixed precipitation may fall during the transition. Remaining wet spots on paved surfaces could freeze.

“Weather models have been promoting the potential for snow showers behind the front,” said Wes Junker, CWG winter weather expert. “Even without snow showers, puddles on roads are likely to freeze, so there can be slippery spots.”

If there’s snow while the front lines pass, the likelihood of icy roads increases, Junker said. If the front comes through with no precipitation, strong winds could help sidewalks dry out before they can freeze.

Early afternoon wind chills should fall into the single digits and teens in most areas due to wind gusts between 40 and 50 miles per hour. Temperatures quickly drop through the 20s in the afternoon.

Gusts should ease somewhat by evening but will still be blowing at around 25 to 35 mph through Friday night, causing near-zero wind showers. Wind chills in the minus teens to minus 30s can be expected in the mountains to the west.

If you have to travel on Friday, you should take emergency supplies like blankets, food and water with you in case of delays.

A cold Christmas weekend

On clear skies, Christmas Eve morning lows are expected to be between 10 and 15 degrees (maybe slightly warmer downtown). Expect afternoon highs of just 20 to 25 degrees with wind showers no higher than the teens.

On Christmas Day the lows will be in the single digits to mid teens. Afternoon highs may be milder than Saturday but still only reach the mid to high 20s.

It’s almost guaranteed that this will be the coldest two-day Christmas holiday since 1989. This year the high was 23 with a low of 10 on Christmas Eve and the high was 29 with a low of 11 on Christmas Day. A few cold records in the region could fall.

If the minimum temperature falls to at least 16 degrees on either Saturday or Sunday, it will correspond to the coldest year 2022.

If it drops to 15 or less, it would be the coldest since January 2019. Temperatures of 15 degrees or less have only been seen on three days in December since 2000, most recently in 2004.

Jason Samenow and Dan Stillman contributed to this report.

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