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Storm after Thanksgiving could make travel in eastern US chaotic

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An unwelcome spate of torrential rain and thunderstorms is underway across the country that will bring some flooding, other severe weather and even a dose of snowfall for residents of west Texas and east New Mexico. It’s the second of at least three consecutive storm systems to sweep through the Lower 48, part of an active weather pattern expected to continue through early December.

Forecast for the DC area: Short showers today. Saturday is the choice of the weekend.

The hardest hit will be a wide swath of the Deep South and Southern Plains, where generalized rain of 2 to 4 inches could lead to localized flooding. Some of the heaviest could fall in the greater Houston area, where flood monitors are in place through Saturday.

The storm isn’t particularly intense as high winds and tornadoes won’t be a problem, but it’s coming at what is arguably the worst time of the year when people head home after the Thanksgiving holiday. During this peak post-Thanksgiving trip, 55 million Americans are expected to drive 50 miles or more. Millions more will take to the skies or onto the rails. In any journey through time, the weather becomes crucial.

The storm is strengthening over the Texas Trans-Pecos and northern Chihuahua, Mexico, where a pronounced counterclockwise vortex is visible on water vapor satellite imagery. Ahead of the system, comparatively mild, wetter air swirls north, while colder Canadian air plunges south in its wake.

Snow capable of flying falls where moisture and cold air overlap. This is the case in southeastern New Mexico, western portions of the Texas Hill Country, and Texas’ Big Bend. Winter storm warnings are in effect in Marfa, Texas and Carlsbad, NM, with a winter weather advisory for Lubbock. The Interstate 10 corridor could be severely impacted.

Farther east, rain fell on the warm side of the system between Abilene and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More downpours and a few thunderstorms lurked off the Houston coast.

As the system intensifies, it will pull a tongue of moisture north from the Gulf of Mexico. That would lead to a conveyor belt of downpours repeatedly targeting Houston. The National Weather Service’s Weather Forecasting Center has classified a level 3 out of 4 as a moderate risk of excessive rainfall and flash flooding in the city.

The local office of the National Weather Service warns that “rainfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour are expected with higher rates of up to 4 inches per hour with stronger and slower storms.” Especially in urban and densely populated areas, this could quickly lead to serious accumulations that would exceed the capacity of the soil.

Farther north and west, Austin, Dallas, and Longview could see an inch or more, with some slight delays along Interstates 10, 20, 30, and 35.

The Houston to Galveston corridor, also a major air travel hub, will see the heaviest rain Friday night through the first half of Saturday. Anywhere from 2 to 5 inches or more is possible, with the largest totals coming from downpours that train or repeatedly move over the same areas.

A marginal Level 1 of 5 severe weather risk also affects portions of the South Texas coast, including the Matagorda Peninsula, where a brief, fleeting tornado cannot be ruled out.

Heavy rain in the South and Midwest

On Saturday morning, the strengthening low will shift toward central Texas, spreading the main axis of moderate to locally heavy rain into Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and east Texas. A six- to 10-hour window of moderate rain will cross Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee during the second half of Saturday into night or early Sunday, while a lighter region of “wraparound” windmills rains back west around the low-pressure center.

General rain of 1 to 2 inches is likely across most of the South, with a half to one inch in Tennessee. Parts of the Midwest could also see decent rainfall, with just over an inch in most of central and southern Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. Amounts decrease east of the Appalachia.

Sunday rain on the east coast

The Interstate 95 corridor in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic will see its rain, about a half to three-quarters of an inch, arriving around noon Sunday, more or less a couple of hours. There will be no washout but some moderate to heavy downpours are expected. Lighter rains can reach all the way back to Chicago in the first half of Sunday; by Sunday night to Monday the system will have retreated to New England.

This could result in slow travel between cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Washington, DC and New York City. Boston, Providence and Hartford will be hardest hit after dark.

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