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Return to wintry weather Thursday: Difficult travel likely

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Temperatures were well above average today and pushed close to 40 degrees at times! Despite this, a cold front is approaching. The good news is it will get us out of this foggy and cloudy pattern. The bad news is it comes with wintry precipitation, wind, and eventually much colder temps.

A Winter Storm Watch is in effect for much of Western Wisconsin, and could be upgraded to a warning or advisory tonight. Areas south and east of Eau Claire have already been changed to a Winter Weather Advisory, and the watch area remains on the edge between advisory and warning criteria.

Wintry weather could start close to tomorrow morning, likely in the form of freezing drizzle or wintry mix, but thankfully those chances are diminishing. The snow won't start until mid to late morning, so things are looking better for the morning commute. Still, be wary of the small chance for freezing drizzle that still exists even if the chance is trending downwards.

The three day combined Winter Storm Severity product from the Weather Prediction Center shows minor to moderate winter impacts through Friday night. This means that you should expect difficult travel conditions that could become dangerous at times.

We remain below average for both January and winter snowfall to date, but these stats can be deceiving because we don't normally see a little snow each day. Rather, snow tends to arrive in waves where there are a few days with a lot of snow and many more with little to none. One of those larger systems is approaching.

Unlike a more typical winter storm, this one will last for a longer duration with light to moderate snow rates lasting from Thursday all the way through Friday evening. There could even be some breaks with no snow at all for a bit before it starts up again.

Therefore, don't expect to wake up to see heavy snow totals on Friday morning. Instead, expect to see an average of 1 to 3 inches in any given six hour period of time. This will lead to widespread totals of 3 to 9 inches across Western Wisconsin, and the highest totals will be where there is expected to be the least amount of breaks in the snowfall.

The uncertainty in the forecast again is due to the potential for dry air to move towards the center of the low. How far north that sets up has big implications on snow totals. While normally, snow forecasts become pretty accurate one day out from the start of the snow, this system won't be over in 12 hours. It will last well into Friday night, so the second half of the system is where the biggest question marks are. This uncertainty is shown in the graph below, which shows computer model snow total projections for Eau Claire.

One to three inches looks likely for Thursday morning through early afternoon with the snow totals from Thursday evening through Friday evening the bigger question. There could be anywhere from one to five additional inches for most, with up to 10 total further west and northwest of Eau Claire

As of the Wednesday afternoon forecast, this area of higher snow totals looks to be north and west of Eau Claire. As snow continues Friday, it will get windy which will cause some blowing and drifting.

Temperatures will be falling through the weekend, but still above average. Temps will be closer to average early next week with a better chance for below average temps arriving late next week.

Matt Schaefer

Matt Schaefer was promoted to Chief Meteorologist in July of 2019 and has been our evening meteorologist for News 18 since June of 2016. Prior to that, he was our Saturday meteorologist starting in September 2014.

Matt was born and raised in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He enjoys all the extremes that mother nature throws at the Badger State: from severe thunderstorms to blizzards to subzero temperatures.

Matt studied meteorology in the Midwest as well, earning his Bachelor’s of Science in Meteorology at Valparaiso University in Indiana. There, Matt was heavily involved in VUTV Weather, the Valpo student chapter of AMS/NWA, and VUSIT (Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team). He’s logged more than 20,000 miles chasing and studying severe storms all across the country and witnessed nine tornadoes including six in one day!

Matt describes himself as a Wisconsin boy at heart and enjoys cheering for the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, and Admirals just to name a few. He loves simply being outdoors and enjoys the Wisconsin wilderness especially in fall, and whitetail deer season!

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