Everything but the kitchen sink will be thrown at Madison in the storm heading this way, including snow, rain and thunder.
The latest forecast from the National Weather Service calls for snow to start falling on the capital city mainly after 9 p.m., becoming heavier as the night progresses and the wind picks up.
By morning, the Madison area could have 4 to 6 inches of heavy, wet snow, and winds could be gusting up to 30 miles an hour.
Temperatures hovering around freezing could change some of the snow to rain Thursday morning, but the precipitation should change back to all snow by the afternoon, with thunder thrown in to the mix.
Blizzard conditions will be prevalent with winds up to 40 mph blowing out of the northwest. New snow of 4 to 7 inches is possible during the day on Thursday.
On Thursday night, falling snow will be augmented by widespread blowing snow before midnight, then just blowing snow after midnight as the storm starts to move out. Winds could still hit 40 mph in the night hours.
All told, accumulation of up to 14 inches of snow is possible in Madison.
“Travel will become difficult to impossible,” the Weather Service warned. “This will be a crippling and life-threatening winter storm. prepare to take all necessary precautions.”
The powerful storm, dubbed Winter Storm Draco by the Weather Channel, is expected to take shape over the panhandle of Texas on Wednesday and move northeast into the Great Lakes region on Thursday on a track that will deliver a “paralyzing” snowstorm to the area.
While the Weather Service said there still is some uncertainty about where the heaviest snow band will set up, it said the most likely area will be centered within a county or so of a line from Darlington to Madison, Beaver Dam and Fond du Lac.
The heaviest snow is likely from after midnight into the day on Thursday, diminishing from west to east in the evening. Thundersnow and rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour are possible.
Winds should blow out of the northeast at 10 to 20 mph Wednesday night, then turn out of the northwest at 20 to 30 mph on Thursday, with gusts of 35 to 45 mph.
“The primary uncertainty with blizzard conditions Thursday afternoon and evening is near freezing temperatures and how wet the snow is,” the Weather Service said. “A wet snow would reduce the threat for blizzard conditions, while a drier and fluffy snow would increase the threat for whiteout conditions.”
The Weather Service forecasts a high near 35 for Madison on Wednesday, an overnight low around 31, a high Thursday near 34, then falling temperatures down to a low Thursday night around 16, with wind chill values between zero and 10.
Far southeast Wisconsin isn't part of the warnings because that area will see too much warm air wrap in around the intense low, bringing rain and a blend of rain and snow before it transitions to all snow Thursday afternoon, keeping snow totals down for that area.
27 Storm Track meteorologist Brian Olson forecast 13 to 16 inches of snow for the Madison area, also with strong winds creating near-blizzard to blizzard conditions. He expects 10 to 13 inches in southern Dane County, and 5 to 10 inches in Rock and Walworth counties.
The Madison area got a prelude on Tuesday with 1.4 inches of snow recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport, while other readings in Madison and McFarland recorded only 0.5 and 0.8 inches, respectively.
The snow did little to disrupt normal business in Madison.
“It sounds like the roads have been a little slick with maybe a few more accidents than normal, but nothing egregious,” said police Sgt. Jason Ostrenga.
But Ostrenga expects things to change starting Wednesday night.
“My advice is from (Wednesday) around 5 p.m., plan on not leaving where you’re at until later Thursday,” he said.
Skies will clear on Friday, but northwest winds still are expected at 10 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. The high Friday should be near 24.
Winds will die down for the weekend with sunny skies before more clouds move in Sunday night through Christmas. There’s a 20 percent chance of snow on Christmas Eve night and a 30 percent chance on Christmas Day.
Highs Saturday through Tuesday are expected near 27, 26, 29 and 29, and lows Friday night through Monday night should be around 8, 10, 15, and 19.
Olson forecasts highs Wednesday through next Wednesday near 36, 32, 24, 28, 27, 28, 27 and 22, and overnight lows around 29, 15, 8, 13, 15, 21, 13 and 8.
Tuesday’s high of 31 in Madison was 2 degrees above normal and 22 degrees below the record high for Dec. 18 of 53 set in 1923 and 2002.
The low on Tuesday was 26, 11 degrees above normal and 46 degrees above the record low for Dec. 18 of 20 below set in 1884.
Officially, 0.1 inches of precipitation fell at the Dane County Regional Airport on Tuesday, boosting Madison’s December and meteorological winter (December through February) precipitation total (rain plus snow converted to liquid) at the normal 1.2 inches, 0.06 inches above normal. For the year, Madison has received 24.96 inches of precipitation, 8.92 inches below normal.
The 1.4 inches of snow on Tuesday boosted Madison’s December and meteorological winter snow total to 5.5 inches, 2.4 inches below normal. For the snow season (since July 1), Madison has received 5.6 inches, 6.4 inches below normal.
Jeff Richgels and Bill Novak of The Capital Times and Jeff Glaze of the Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.