Depending on the track and strength of a storm, snow, wind and rain could threaten travel over a large part of the central United States on Christmas Day.
While only minor weather-related travel issues are anticipated for much of the nation this week, there are indications that a major storm could develop during the Christmas weekend.
People with long-distance or local travel plans from Saturday to Monday along the Interstate 25, I-70, I-80, I-90 and I-94 corridors from the High Plains to the Upper Midwest should monitor the forecast and storm's progress.
With an outlook this far out, there are multiple scenarios possible as the parent storm system is still well offshore over the northern Pacific Ocean.
"However, the storm may strengthen and reduce its forward speed as it travels northeastward from the central Plains toward the Upper Midwest from Christmas Day to Monday," Anderson said.
This overall path appears to be the most likely at this time. Direct impacts are possible on the major cities of Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri.
If the storm develops to its full potential, then the impacts could range from major travel disruptions to power outages and property damage.
"The exact track and strength of such a strong storm would determine not only where the weather battle zone between rain, ice and snow would be, but also the northern and eastward extent of severe thunderstorms," Margusity said.
With a potential major storm in the Central states, the weather in the eastern and western thirds of the nation could be tranquil on Christmas Day.
Another scenario keeps the storm weak, fast and fragmented.
In this possible outcome, little wind, minimal temperature extremes and light precipitation would result. The storm or multiple storms would tend to move quickly across the nation from Friday through Christmas Day and Monday.
However, a weak storm scenario with areas of light precipitation could still cause some travel problems, such as reduced visibility from fog and slippery travel from black ice or a coating of snow.
Regardless of the exact scenario that unfolds, the central U.S. is likely to have the most unsettled weather conditions and greatest potential for travel problems during the extended Christmas weekend.
Ripple-effect delays can affect airlines across the nation if crews and aircraft are displaced because of a major storm over the Central states.