U.S. winter storms set to intensify rapidly, threatening blizzards in the Chicago area and tornadoes in the South

(CNN) — Another powerful storm is preparing to bring blizzards, severe thunderstorms, damaging winds and freezing temperatures to the eastern half of the United States, which will be a dangerous sense of déjà vu for many.

New storms will once again put at risk areas of the central and eastern United States that were hit by massive storms earlier this week, widening the potential impact on people still recovering.

But there are some key differences in the forecast for this storm compared to the last one, especially in the Chicago area, which did not see significant snow earlier in the week but could be hit by a blizzard Friday night.

The origin of the new storm is in the Pacific Northwest, which was hit by snowstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Snow and high winds moved into the Four Corners area from the northwest Wednesday night. A round of snow will affect higher elevations in Arizona and New Mexico on Thursday.

Forecast models show a powerful storm centered on the Great Lakes Friday night, producing strong wind gusts. (CNN Weather)

As the storm moves off the plains Thursday night, it will evolve into an even bigger beast (a huge boost of atmospheric energy will help it intensify) and set the stage for a major impact event across the central and eastern United States.

what happens?

Thursday night: Snow in Plains, severe risk in South

The storm will intensify Thursday night and begin dropping snow, sometimes heavy amounts, from parts of Kansas and Nebraska into the Midwest. The snow will again be accompanied by gusty winds, which could cause power outages. Travel could be dangerous Thursday night.

At the same time, extremely cold air will move south from Canada, causing temperatures to drop across much of the north-central United States.

Severe storm threats will once again affect much of the South. The risk of severe storms increased to a Category 3 out of 5 for parts of Arkansas, eastern Texas and northwest Louisiana, including Shreveport, Thursday night, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

The main threats in these areas are severe tornadoes, large or very large hail, and damaging wind gusts.

There is a slight risk of severe thunderstorms or Category 5 Category 2 thunderstorms Thursday night for a broader area from eastern Texas to western Mississippi. The main threats are tornadoes, strong wind gusts and large hail.

Friday: Storm threat peaks

Snow will cover more of the Midwest as the storm moves eastward and continues to strengthen Friday.

The heaviest snow accumulations from this storm are still expected to be limited to parts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. Some inland areas of each state, away from the relatively warm areas of the Great Lakes, could see about a foot of snow.

There is still some uncertainty about the exact amount of snow this storm will bring to Chicago, as amounts can vary widely throughout the metro area. Its proximity to Lake Michigan may mean temperatures may not drop enough for heavy snow in the central area. But if the city is trapped by a particularly deep band of snow, more people could be trapped and cause serious travel problems.

As the storm intensifies on Friday, much of the Midwest could see wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph. The combination of snow and strong winds could produce blizzard conditions across the Chicago area, especially Friday night.

Meanwhile, harsh cold air will continue to sweep across more of the central and northern United States. Temperatures in Omaha, Nebraska, are unlikely to get above single digits on Friday, while parts of North Dakota will be lucky if the high reaches freezing.

On the storm’s warmer south side, another severe storm will affect much of the Southeast and parts of the mid-Atlantic.

The highest risk for damaging storms extends from Alabama to North Carolina. The risk for severe thunderstorms in the area is level 3 of 5 on Friday, with the possibility of damaging wind gusts and some strong tornadoes.

By Friday evening, rain will spread over more of the mid-Atlantic and reach parts of the Northeast. As the rains arrive, flooding concerns will increase from parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to southern New England.

Total rainfall is expected to be about the same as or slightly less than the last storm: between 25 and 50mm is possible, but isolated areas could see around 76mm. Flooding is more likely because the ground is soaked and rivers are still swollen from the last storm.

Saturday: Potential for power outages increases in Northeast region

The storm will reach much of the Northeast early Saturday morning, with snow and possibly sleet possible in the interior Northeast, especially in northern New England.

Along with winter precipitation, the Northeast will once again experience strong winds and more power outages are possible. Recent storms have left hundreds of thousands of people without power across the East, and many remained without power Wednesday.

Snow will continue to fall in the Great Lakes region, with some lake effect snow likely to develop after the storm passes Saturday night.

The worst of the storm’s effects typically move away from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic by Saturday morning, but some windy conditions will remain in the storm’s aftermath.

Across the central United States, the cold will only get worse over the weekend and into next week. Temperatures will reach dangerous levels, especially in the north-central United States.

CNN’s Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.

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