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A monster storm is coming next week: What will happen?

What we know with high confidence at this point is that there will be a monster storm in the central U.S. by the early and middle part of next week.

Now that I have your attention, let me preface by saying that talking about any storm in detail 6 or 7 days ahead of time is mere entertainment. For weather geeks, this is our entertainment.

Since we’re on the topics of monsters and entertainment, there’s an iconic quote from the original Jurassic Park movie where Jeff Goldblum’s character talks about chaos theory.

"It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems," he says. "The shorthand is 'the butterfly effect.' A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine."

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While his description is misleading and chaos theory is a whole different explainer that we'll save for another article, the basic idea is that a lot can happen in our atmosphere between now and next Tuesday. 

How about instead of a butterfly in China, we're dealing with a rainstorm in Tokyo? Our potential future storm system is in the North Pacific, where it rained on Japan earlier this week.

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Waves and storms in our atmosphere evolve considerably, so comparing what's happened in Japan to what could happen here isn't even apples and oranges, it's more like cars and ping pong balls. But the storm that moved through Tokyo will be crossing Alaska and slamming into Canada and the northwestern U.S. before evolving into a major storm east of the Rockies.

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What we know with high confidence at this point is that there will be a monster storm in the central U.S. by the early and middle part of next week, but what exactly happens and where are questions we can't answer yet. 

There will be a ton of moisture to work with. As I’ve discussed before, the potential for bigger storms exists early and late in the winter season when there’s more moisture available (because warmer air holds more water vapor). Precipitable water values (the amount of water available in the atmospheric column) will be triple the normal values for the time of year.

Precipitable water values for 12 pm Tuesday: European model

Precipitable water values for 12 pm Tuesday: European model

One of the major things we’re watching with this upcoming storm system is the key factor in most of our big storms: the TRACK. The American model is back and forth on being the warmer of the models with the more northerly track. This would lead to more rain across southern Minnesota with heavy, wet snow into the Dakotas and northern Minnesota. The Canadian model is colder and a bit more south, leading to the BIG snow across much of Minnesota and rain remaining more into Iowa. The European model is almost literally in between these two scenarios.

Low pressure and precip type at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 from the 3 major models

Low pressure and precip type at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 from the 3 major models

The difference of about 270 miles north or south in the extent of the warm air will have a huge impact on what type of precipitation we see and how much of it, as well as the timing.

SNOWFALLS

The other thing to watch is how slow this system may move next week. The main mid/upper level low is forecast to become a cut-off low, which means it essentially is cut from the main flow of the atmosphere and jet stream, allowing it to slowly meander. This could allow precip totals to add up more in some areas. Regardless, this storm system will affect the central U.S. in one form or another most of next week.

Winds aloft in the middle atmosphere: note the ‘cut-off’ feature to the center in Nebraska

Winds aloft in the middle atmosphere: note the ‘cut-off’ feature to the center in Nebraska

At the end of the day, this system is still about 3,500 miles to our northwest and 140 hours away. A lot can still happen, but it will be entertaining. 

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