A winter storm that dropped 17 inches (43 centimeters) of snow in Amarillo, Texas, closed airports and shut highways will move across the Great Plains toward Chicago and possibly Boston.
The storm is expected to head northeast, bringing heavy snow to Kansas and Missouri overnight and as much as 8 inches to Chicago starting tomorrow, said David Roth, a weather forecaster with the U.S. Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The heavy snow, the Plains’s second major storm in a week, may help the region that has been struggling with one of the worst droughts since the 1930s, Roth said.
“This snowpack is going to be great for them because it is going to help the winter wheat,” Roth said. “Ultimately, this will be a very good thing for the Great Plains even if it is a significant nuisance right now.”
Wheat slid to an eight-month low in Chicago today on speculation that the snow will help ease the dryness. Cattle futures climbed on concern that the system will disrupt the movement of animals and supplies.
The storm shut down Interstate 40 and several secondary roads through the Texas Panhandle, according to the state Transportation Department’s website. A blizzard warning stretches from eastern New Mexico through Texas and into Oklahoma and Kansas.
“Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely,” the National Weather Service said. “Do not travel. If you must, have a winter survival kit with you.”
Storm warnings, watches and advisories reach into Illinois, including Chicago, and Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Amarillo and Lubbock international airports shut. High winds spawned by the system caused delays of almost 2.5 hours at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.
As of 4 p.m. Eastern time, 304 flights were canceled across the U.S., with 106 of them into or out of Dallas-Fort Worth, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking company.
Roth said while the storm’s energy pushes snow through the Great Lakes and into Ontario, a secondary system will develop in North Carolina and move up the East Coast, bringing rain to Washington, Philadelphia and New York later this week. There may be “measurable snow” in Boston in three days, he said.
Interior regions of New York and New England may get 6 to 8 inches of snow starting late tomorrow, he said.
About 56 percent of the contiguous 48 states are affected by the worst drought since the 1930s. The lack of moisture has sent corn prices up and lowered Mississippi River levels and threatens to persist into the coming planting season.
Heavy snow on the cusp of spring can help recharge soil moisture if the water content is able seep into the soil rather than just blow off frozen land, said Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation center in Lincoln.
Since the U.S. wheat-growing region entered the growing season at a deficit, the snow “is a good start but it isn’t a one-off” that will erase the drought, Svoboda said. Soil moisture was in good shape at the start of last year’s season and then the drought came on hard and fast, he said.
U.S. wheat production may decline 7.4 percent this year to 2.1 billion bushels as yields fall to 45.2 bushels an acre from 46.3 bushels, the Department of Agriculture projected Feb. 22. Kansas and Oklahoma were last year’s biggest U.S. growers of winter wheat, usually planted in the Plains beginning in September. The crops will emerge from dormancy in the coming month before harvesting starts in June.
The area of the country that will certainly see some relief following the latest storms is the Southeast, which has been in the grip of drought for almost three years, Svoboda said.
The snow is on the north and western side of a large low-pressure system. To the south, heavy rain and severe thunderstorms may break out across the U.S. Gulf Coast, the weather service predicted.
At least one tornado was reported in Florida, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Large hail was also seen in Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.
A tornado watch was posted in Louisiana and Florida until later today.