What to expect from the big storm hitting the US east coast before Thanksgiving

Quartz meteorologist Eric Holthaus answered reader questions about the storm that’s forecast to hit the east coast of the United States on the day before Thanksgiving. You can watch the half-hour chat in the video above or read our summary of the conversation below. Eric’s latest forecast is here.

What should we expect?

A lot of rain. Expect three to four inches of rain from Houston, New Orleans, and Atlanta, up through the North Carolina mountains up to Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York, and Boston. It might not sound like a lot, but that’s a lot of rain to get in a span of 12 to 24 hours. The rainstorm should mostly pass by Wednesday evening, Nov. 27, but later in the week, look out for chilly winds, icy roads, and light snow flurries.

When will the worst of the storm hit?

If you’re in the Atlanta or Charlotte areas, the worst day will be Tuesday, Nov. 26, but the heaviest rain will be fall from Washington DC to Boston in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Nov. 27. That’s really the peak of the storm. By Wednesday evening, the rain should start to clear, but most of the country will probably still be in sub-freezing air, which could lead to icing on the streets, and possibly even a couple of inches of snow as the storm moves up into Maine and Quebec, bringing colder air back into the DC/Boston area. By Thursday morning, the roads could be pretty icy, following temperatures in the teens and low 20s on Wednesday night, which will cause the rain to freeze before it can drain away—especially as drains could be clogged by fallen leaves.

Will all this rain cause flooding?

Probably not, because the moon is on our side. Usually, a nor’easter’s strong winds drive ocean water into the coast, adding up to two feet to the high tide and flooding coastlines. But this storm is hitting right at the mid point between the full moon and the new moon, so the high tide is at its lowest point. Also, New England has had a pretty severe drought for the last 90 days, with the last three months marking the driest ever September to November for New York since 1869—just three inches of rain so far. So although the rainfall this week will double the last three months’ level, there won’t be as much flooding as there would have been had there been normal rainfall so far this fall.

So is this or isn’t this a nor’easter?

It isn’t. Last week, the storm looked like it was shaping up to be a classic, snowy nor’easter, but that’s not going to happen anymore. It’s actually a blend of a cold air surge from the north and a tropical plume of moisture from the south. The storm rotates counter-clockwise, so the tropical moisture gets pulled up on the east side, leading to more rain than snow. So if you’re in central Pennsylvania or the Poconos, your experience could still be mostly snow and ice. But anywhere east of there, the storm will be an entirely rain event. And that’s good news, because a classic nor’easter could have buried New York City under at least a foot of snow over Thanksgiving, which would really have slowed things down and disrupted travel plans. But heavy rain can slow highways and cause icy roads.

How will the storm affect the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York?

The rain should have passed by then, but it certainly won’t be ideal balloon weather. Expect winds of up to 35 miles per hour and wind chill temperatures in the single digits, so it will feel even colder than it did on Sunday. “Wear like three coats if you’re going to go and watch the parade,” Holthaus said. “And if you want to make some quick cash, set up a hot chocolate stand.”

Will the storm have any impact on Black Friday?

Temperatures across the US will still be below freezing, so wrap up warm if you’re planning to line up on the sidewalk to hit the sales early. But seasonally cold weather is good for business and usually boost retail sales, as consumers feel the holiday spirit—and spend more on cold weather items such as coats.

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