The weather outside could be frightful on Christmas Eve in much of Kansas — including Wichita — as forecasters anticipate a major winter storm moving through the nation's heartland.
The storm is expected to strike central and northern Kansas with snow and blizzard conditions Wednesday and the Wichita-area Wednesday night and most of the day Christmas Eve.
"Here's the bottom line: This storm is so intense that people will need to modify their travel around this storm," said Mike Smith, chief executive officer for WeatherData Inc., a subsidiary of AccuWeather.
"I don't think there's any doubt that somewhere in the corridor between Wichita and Sioux Falls (S.D.), someone's going to get 2 feet of snow — and that 2 feet of snow is going to be piled up in drifts," Smith said.
But computer simulations still disagree on where the heaviest snow will fall Wednesday and Thursday. Forecasters hope to be able to pin down snowfall estimates more firmly today.
The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard watch for 40 counties in southern Kansas, stretching from the Colorado line to Reno, McPherson and Saline counties. The watch extends from Wednesday night through most of the day Thursday.
Sedgwick, Butler, Cowley and several counties in south-central and north-central Kansas remain under a winter storm watch.
The weather service is projecting 3 to 5 inches of snow for Wichita, with north winds blowing steadily 35 to 40 miles an hour — with gusts still higher.
"No matter how much snow areas get, definitely the wind is going to be a factor as we move into Thursday and Thursday night," said Kevin Darmofal, a meteorologist with the weather service. "We're still going to have some wind around on Christmas."
Whiteout conditions are expected most of the day Thursday.
"Driving is going to be very difficult once this gets going," Smith said.
Forecasters were hoping the storm system would have moved through by Thursday, but Darmofal said the system has slowed down as it organized.
"It still won't be nice to travel" on Christmas Day because wind will persist into Friday even after the snowfall ends, Darmofal said.
And it's going to get cold Friday and Saturday, he said.
"Wherever we have deep snow cover, temperatures have the potential to get close to 0," he said.
That intense cold means whatever falls will stick around for Christmas Day and through the holiday weekend, Darmofal said.
A warm-up won't commence until Sunday, he said, and even then it will only take temperatures slightly above freezing.