Extremely cold temperatures are expected to spill across Georgia later this week. In some areas, highs may struggle to get out of the 20°s and low 30°s.

So what does that mean for those looking to travel this holiday season, both inside Georgia and through Georgia? For insight, we turn to Dave Hennen, senior executive producer of CNN Weather and meteorologist. He spoke with GPB’s Peter Biello.

Peter Biello: I saw that in some places in Georgia, the low is going to be 13°, 14°, 15°, closer to Christmas Day. Is that accurate? Is it going to be that low?

Dave Hennen: It is. It is going to be pretty close to records around Georgia. Not truly a record, because the benchmark year was 1983 when there was this massive cold push that impacted a good part of the country. But it is going to be cold. It looks like the high Christmas Day is going to be 33°, 34°, and that would put us in the top five of coldest Christmases in Atlanta on record. And those records go back well to the early century. So it is cold, no doubt, and when you compare it to last year when we hit 70 degrees — many remember how warm it was here around the holidays last year — it is going to be quite a change from that.

Peter Biello: Wow. Indeed. If you have to go back to 1983 to remember a time like this, it seems like this is pretty rare.

Dave Hennen:  It is. Yeah. This — it is historic and it’s going to be even colder on Christmas Eve. So we have only had three Christmas Eves when the temperature in Atlanta did not make it above freezing. And this is likely to be another one. So, again, some kind of rare air there to be that cold so early in the season.

Peter Biello: Can you tell us a little bit about what weather pattern or what weather science is behind what’s making it so cold this time around?

Dave Hennen: We have this extreme dip in the jet stream. That jet stream is that river of air at about 40,000 feet. It’s called the jet stream because they discovered it in World War II; as the airplanes were flying over Japan, they were hitting 200-mph winds. And nobody even knew that the jet stream, at that point, existed. But that jet stream is what drives the storms that move across the country and the storms that impact Atlanta. And in this case, we have a big dip in the jet stream from Canada that runs down to Georgia and many areas in the South. So all of this cold air which has been bottled up around the Arctic is suddenly let loose and literally pours, like pouring a bucket of ice from Canada down into the U.S. And that is going to cause these extreme temperatures that are going to be very widespread. It’s not just Atlanta. We’re looking at wind chill factors starting tomorrow up in Montana to be 50 to 60 degrees below zero. So every state in the lower 48 will see a freezing temperature.

Peter Biello: And what about ice and snow? Are we going to see in Georgia any ice and snow on the road? If so, where? And what will that mean for travel?

Dave Hennen: I think in Georgia we’re going to be okay. So there is this first system that kind of comes through a little bit earlier in the week that might bring us — it looks like some rain, that 38°-, 39°-, 40°-degree rain. We may see a little bit of snow up in the North Georgia mountains. But the big event as far as storms go is later on this week, we have this massive storm that’s going to take shape in the Rockies. It’s going to move into the Plains, going to move into the Midwest. And that is going to drop a lot of snow in a lot of places. Big cities in the Midwest, like Chicago, will have some pretty serious travel impacts from Thursday into Friday.

Peter Biello: So what will that mean for air travelers in Georgia? Maybe not so much a problem for people who are in Georgia, but perhaps the destination they’re flying to is going to be treacherous.

Dave Hennen: We could see some delays in Georgia later on this week just because of the winds. So not only are we going to see these cold temperatures, we are expecting 20- to 30-mph winds. So the wind chill factor here in Georgia is going to be down in the teens and single digits, perhaps at times. As far as air travel goes, not really snow in Atlanta, so we shouldn’t be impacted by that. We could see some minor delays in Atlanta because of the winds. But if you have Midwestern plans — if you’re flying to Chicago or have a connection through Chicago, especially Thursday into Friday, maybe early Saturday —there could be some cancellations. And it’s possible that even O’Hare, you know, what is it, the second biggest airport in the world behind Atlanta, could actually close down for a time if the computer models are spitting out over a foot of snow, 50-mph winds. That would cause whiteout conditions and nothing would be able to travel on that. 

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Peter Biello | GPB

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered on GPB. His interviews and stories can be heard every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m. on GPB.