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By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – Much of the U.S. East Coast could see record high temperatures on Christmas Day and through the weekend even as a major winter storm looms for the southern Great Plains, forecasters said on Friday.

Temperatures are forecast to be more than 20 degrees above normal for the East Coast on Christmas Day, the National Weather Service said. Record highs were shattered on Thursday across the region, with Washington hitting 71 degrees Fahrenheit (21.7 Celsius) and New York topping out at 72 F (22.2 C).

Above-average temperatures will linger for the eastern United States through the weekend, with rain across the area raising the possibility of flash floods.

But in the western United States, winter was coming out in full force.

A storm system is expected to strengthen on Saturday and surge across the Rockies into the southern Great Plains, said lead forecaster Bob Oravec in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s going to be a pretty big, high-impact event coming up over the next few days,” he said.

An area from New Mexico to Oklahoma is under a blizzard and winter storm watch, with snow up to 2 feet (61 cm) possible for parts of New Mexico and northern Texas. Severe storms and heavy rain are possible in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

And in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains a winter storm dumped 2 feet (61 cm) of snow Thursday and Friday on Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Mountain Resort, according to an online tally for the getaway spot. Snow was still falling on Friday.

Facing delays stemming in part from severe weather this week, package delivery company FedEx Corp said it was manning customer counters with volunteers on Christmas Day.

“FedEx is doing everything possible to get customer shipments delivered by Christmas,” FedEx, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee, said in a statement.

A storm system on Wednesday spawned tornadoes that killed at least 14 people in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. A spokesman for the Mississippi emergency agency said one person was still missing.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; and Leslie Adler)

Photo: Young boys play in a park during an unusually warm winter day in Brooklyn, New York December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 

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