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'It's an official milk and bread advisory': Meteorologists say be prepared ahead of a forecasted win

 Dangerous wind chills are expected in central Illinois from Thursday afternoon into Saturday (Christmas Eve). Here's a look at the forecast as of Monday afternoon.
National Weather Service, Lincoln
Dangerous wind chills are expected in central Illinois from Thursday afternoon into Saturday (Christmas Eve). Here's a look at the forecast as of Monday afternoon.

Whether Bloomington-Normal sees a white Christmas is still up in the air (so to speak), but forecasters say it will certainly be a brutally cold one.

That's thanks to a winter storm that's expected to hit the area by Thursday, according to Lincoln-based National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Albano.

"We're looking at a three-pronged attack here from the storm system: On the front end, obviously, we're dealing with some accumulating snow. That's the part we're not as sure about," Albano said in an interview Monday.

"The other two hazards that we're most concerned about is the strong wind gusts, up to 40-50 miles per hour ... and the extreme cold that will come Thursday night through Saturday afternoon where overnight temperatures fall below zero and the wind chill feels around 20 below."

Forecasters are awaiting the landfall of a "disturbance" that Albano said will drive the storm weather system. As of Monday, it was still over the Pacific Ocean and had not yet made landfall.

Once it does, Albano said, meteorologists should be able to more accurately pinpoint where snowfall will be the heaviest.

"We are expecting accumulating snow and a couple inches seems like a sure bet — we're just not sure yet if that's going to be in Champaign, if that's going to be right here in Lincoln or if that's going to hit Peoria or Galesburg," he said. "There is the potential for some areas to get well over 6 inches."

Albano said the areas that do get snowfall and high winds could experience "blizzard-like" conditions that make travel treacherous.

The winds also heighten the risk of sporadic power outages and delays in air travel.

"Folks probably want to have everything wrapped up and under the tree by Wednesday. And that's everything — if they can get that all done by Wednesday, and they can hunker down Thursday and Friday, they're going to be in a much better position to come out of this without it ruining the holiday," he said.

Some snow is expected to begin falling on Wednesday evening, but the accompanying winds and bitter cold aren't expected until Thursday night.

Albano said conditions will likely be at their worst on Thursday night into Friday morning.

Fran Strebing, a spokesperson for the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, said people who may be using the airport this week should monitor their flights through whichever airline is operating them.

As an entity, she said, CIRA does not determine delays or cancellations of flights and could not predict whether either of those could be expected later this week.

"We are monitoring the forecast and preparing for whatever is coming, which is always a little bit of a moving target," she said. "Our people are in place, as is our equipment and our materials for deicing. We are charged with keeping our runways clear and open and that’s always our goal, but that actual decision on whether or not a flight will operate is left up to the airlines."

Regardless of how much snow does end up falling, Albano said officials are urging people to be prepared ahead of time given the dangerous wind gusts and below-zero temperatures.

"Keep an eye out on a forecast because it will change over the next 36 hours," he said. "Having an emergency supply kit, at home and in your car, is as an excellent starting point, (as is) having a plan for all of these scenarios here. Again, this is probably one of the most impactful storms of the year."

The NWS Lincoln office issueda winter storm warning Monday afternoon for portions of Central and West Central Illinois that is expected to last until 6 a.m. on Saturday.

For those who may be in need of temporary shelter via a warming center or more permanent accommodations, McLean County maintains a list of locations online.

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Lyndsay Jones