The head of the National Weather Service has urged that "people should pay attention" to the developing snowstorm that is threatening the Washington, D.C., region and beyond. Speaking at a press briefing at NOAA's Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md., Dr. Louis Uccelini advised that, "if people haven't taken action and they're driving on (the I-95 corridor) on Saturday, they're at risk."
For those who might harbor some skepticism over the accuracy of the predictions for the upcoming storm, Uccelini explained that he was struck by the consistency of the forecasts.
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"I don't remember seeing four of five modeling systems having this much consistency," from seven days to one day out, he said.
The latest NWS forecast predicts a 73 percent chance that more than 18 inches of snow will fall on the Washington area, beginning Friday evening and continuing through Saturday. That would be the city's biggest snowstorm in almost 100 years and the third largest in its history, although some outlier models suggest the total could even reach 30 inches, which would be a record. The weather service has upgraded existing blizzard watches for the DC area to blizzard warnings, and has issued blizzard watches for New Jersey and the fringes of the New York City area.
"The heaviest snow should start falling in the mid-Atlantic area late Friday evening and move steadily up the coast to New York Saturday morning," Uccelini said. "Expect winds to be very strong, especially along the I-95 corridor."
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The expected impacts are likely to begin as early as Thursday evening, farther south in a range from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle, where the weather system - to some extent fed by El Nino conditions - is gathering force before moving north. These impacts include the possibility of tornadoes in Louisiana and ice and freezing rain in Kentucky and North Carolina.
In addition to ice, snowfall and extremely strong winds, there is concern over the possibility of coastal flooding particularly in the Delaware Bay region, and perhaps farther north to New York City. The potential for severe flooding is exacerbated by the fact that the storm is expected to persist for several tidal cycles and is coinciding with a lunar tide.
However, Uccelini said that the weather service was not ready to offer specific flooding forecasts, and encouraged residents to "pay attention to local authorities." Another area of forecast uncertainty includes the exact location of the snow/sleet/rain line - which, with just a small amount of variance, could make the difference between New York City experiencing as little as 5 inches of snow (as currently forecast) or substantially more.
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Uccelini underlined that "I am not trying to scare people." But he warned the storm "has the potential to be a major snow producer. We want to highlight this storm for people to be aware of the risk factors and to be prepared."
For ongoing information on the storm's development and how to prepare, visit www.ready.gov and www.weather.gov.