KIRKSVILLE, Missouri — The winter season does not officially start until December 21, 2018, but don’t tell that to Old Man Winter.
The Heartland is expected to see the first round of accumulating snowfall Thursday evening into Friday morning.
Coincidentally, Iowa's "Winter Weather Awareness Day" is Thursday. Missouri's "Winter Weather Awareness Day" is Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
Current forecasts call for roughly 1” to 2” of snow across the entire area.
Conditions may be a bit difficult on Friday, with the potential of snow squalls developing across southeast Iowa.
Snow squalls are short-lived, intense bursts of moderate to heavy snowfall accompanied by gusty surface winds. Accumulations are often light, but can pile up quickly in some of the more intense storms. They often create white-out conditions.
The National Weather Service has a new tool to help warn against those dangerous snow squalls. They’ll issue a snow squall warning for up to 60 minutes at a time for areas experiencing near zero visibility and rapidly deteriorating roadways.
"Poor Visibility along with icy roads, you can get very deadly situations. And you can go from visibility that is fine down to not being able to see hardly anything in just a matter of seconds," explained National Weather Service Meteorologist Rich Kinney.
He says that the snow squall warning is different than a winter weather advisory or a winter storm warning. Snow squalls account for the short burst of blowing snow and poor visibility, whereas winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings account for longer duration events.
Snow squalls are notorious for creating dangerous driving conditions across the country.
For example, on February 5, 2018, a snow squall caused a 50-car pile-up on I-35 near Ames, Iowa. The following day, a Bloomfield man was killed driving along U.S. Highway 63, just south of Ottumwa. The same storm was responsible for creating the conditions leading to both crashes.
The statistics regarding hazardous winter weather are far more significant than summertime severe weather.
According to the National Weather Service, between 1996 to 2011, an average of 817 people were killed per year in winter related traffic accidents. For perspective, severe weather threats such as tornadoes and straight-line winds accounted for an average of 264 deaths per year during the same time frame.
Once the skies clear up Friday night, the next problems will come in the form of cold weather.
Clear skies plus any existing snowfall on the ground will allow for temperatures to plummet into the teens. With blustery winds, wind chills will likely fall into the single digits.
It’s important that folks put their winter action plans into place now.
Kinney said that as part of Iowa’s Winter Weather Awareness Day, everyone needs to review what the different winter weather watches and warnings mean, and to have an emergency kit in your vehicle with food, blankets, flash lights, and a shovel.