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Blockbuster storm to bring blizzard conditions along East Coast

Two to three feet of snow, hurricane-force winds, coastal flooding and extreme snowfall rates are likely from severe nor’easter

Forecast snowfall from the National Weather Service. (WeatherBell)
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A major winter storm of uncommon intensity is set to wallop parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, with blowing and drifting snow, blizzard conditions for some, thundersnow, hurricane-force winds and extreme snowfall rates.

In the hardest-hit areas of eastern New England, 2 to 3 feet of snow is possible, and thousands of flights have been canceled.

Cities such as Boston and Providence, R.I., could be in line for a memorable event. A number of school districts are canceling classes preemptively for early next week.

With the storm bearing down, a state of emergency was declared in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

Boston, Cape Cod and parts of Rhode Island are bracing for about two feet of snow and blizzard conditions over the course of Jan. 28 and 29. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Winter storm warnings have been posted from northeastern North Carolina to the Canadian border, with the plastering of snow likely to hamper travel and bring widespread disruption. Blizzard warnings — the first to be issued since 2018 — cover eastern Massachusetts, coastal Maine and the New Hampshire seacoast. They’re also up along the shoreline of New Jersey and in parts of the Delmarva Peninsula.

D.C.-area snow updates

“Travel should be restricted to emergencies only,” wrote the National Weather Service in Boston, warning of whiteout conditions. “If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle.”

In all, about 75 million people are under blizzard and winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories.

The storm will intensify explosively as it slips just offshore of southern New England on Saturday morning, its breakneck pace of strengthening far exceeding the thresholds needed to classify it as a “bomb cyclone.”

Moderate coastal flooding is expected, too, including in Scituate, Mass., where officials have issued a voluntary evacuation order for vulnerable homeowners at the coast. Temperatures will plummet in the system’s wake Saturday night, bringing bitter wind chills that could prove dangerous.

The setup

A pair of disturbances nestled within dips in the jet stream were diving southeast across the Lower 48 on Friday. One was bolting across the Southern states while a second was plunging south from the Upper Midwest

The disturbances are set to merge in the Southeast on Friday evening, invigorating a fledgling zone of low pressure developing off the Carolinas. That surface low will “deepen” over the anomalously warm Gulf Stream, meaning its minimum air pressure will drop as it evacuates air from its core. That will brew strong winds as its precipitation expands and intensifies Friday night.

By Saturday, the storm will be passing near the “benchmark,” or 40 degrees north latitude and 70 degrees west longitude. That’s a marker meteorologists use to gauge whether a storm will have severe effects in coastal New England. In this case, it will.

The Northeast

Snow will break out late Friday in southern New England, expanding northeastward and increasing in intensity into Saturday morning.

The worst will spread over eastern Connecticut, the tip of Long Island, Rhode Island and southern/eastern Massachusetts shortly after sunrise, peaking in intensity around noon. Plymouth and Bristol counties, as well as the cape, could experience snowfall rates of 3 to 4 inches per hour, meaning a foot could come down in about three hours’ time.

In Providence and Boston, the heaviest snow, also falling at a rate of up to several inches per hour, is anticipated between about midmorning and midafternoon Saturday, with whiteout conditions possible.

Gusts on the cape and islands will be about 65 to 75 mph, with gusts of 55 to 60 mph along the eastern Massachusetts coastline. Boston and Providence could see gusts to 50 mph. Some power outages are possible, particularly near the coast.

In addition to bringing dramatically reduced visibility and blizzard conditions, the wind will pile water up against the coastline. The combination of a 1-to-3-foot ocean surge atop already high astronomical tides could bring some localized coastal flooding Saturday evening.

Thundersnow is possible on the nose of a “dry slot,” or slice of dry air punching into the comma-shaped storm, during a window centered around midday in eastern New England. The dry slot could cut back on snowfall accumulations on Cape Cod, but confidence is low.

Boston could nab one of its five most prolific snowstorms on record. The number to beat for first place is 27.6 inches, which fell in 48 hours ending Feb. 18, 2003. As long as Boston picks up at least 22.2 inches, it will make it into the top five. Records at Logan Airport date to 1936.

The Weather Service said isolated snowfall totals as high as 3 feet are possible in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Snow will be lighter and fluffier inland, where temperatures will be in the upper teens and lower 20s. Most of coastal Maine and New Hampshire will see well over a foot.

The snow should taper off during the early evening hours Saturday in southern New England and during the predawn hours Sunday in northern Maine.

Here are projected amounts:

Boston: 18 to 24 inches

Providence: 12 to 18 inches

Hartford: 8 to 12 inches

Hyannis, Mass.: 12 to 18 inches

Worcester, Mass.: 10 to 14 inches

Portland, Maine: 10 to 18 inches

Manchester, N.H.: 10 to 14 inches

Burlington, Vt.: 1 to 4 inches

New York and New Jersey

New York and the Interstate 95 stretch of New Jersey will find themselves on the western side of the system, meaning subtle shifts of a few miles could spell the difference between dusting off the windshield and firing up the snowblower. Forecasts have become more confident that New York City will face a plowable snowfall, and the city is under a winter storm warning, with 6 to 9 inches of snow predicted.

“Near blizzard conditions are possible for a period on Saturday,” wrote the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y.

Snow will begin around 10 p.m. Friday evening, growing in intensity after about 4 a.m. and winding down around 10 a.m. Winds gusting to around 40 mph will loft any of the powdery snow that does fall — hence the near-blizzard conditions.

Long Island should see quite a bit more snow, with over a foot possible. As for New Jersey, a foot or more could fall in coastal Monmouth and Ocean counties, but farther inland totals should range from 2 inches west to 8 inches east. The time frame should be similar to New York City’s but shifted earlier a few hours.

New York City: 6 to 9 inches

Newark: 5 to 8 inches

Islip: 10 to 14 inches

Toms River, N.J.: 10 to 14 inches

The Mid-Atlantic

In the Mid-Atlantic, the event will begin Friday evening and could linger into the afternoon Saturday in eastern areas. The heaviest snow, totaling 8 to 14 inches, will be relegated to the eastern Delmarva Peninsula, where a blizzard warning is in effect. That’s the first blizzard warning there since Jan. 3, 2018.

Washington and Baltimore will skirt the heaviest snow, getting only a few brief moderate bands Friday evening as the low begins to materialize and consolidate offshore. Therefore, a general 2 or 3 inches is likely in that stretch.

Ocean City, on the other hand, will be staring down the barrel of a foot of snow, give or take. Even northeastern North Carolina and Virginia’s Hampton Roads could see a few inches.

Washington: 2 to 3 inches

Baltimore: 2 to 3 inches

Virginia Beach: 2 to 4 inches

Dover, Del.: 4 to 7 inches

Ocean City: 8 to 12 inches

Atlantic City: 10 to 14 inches

Read more:

How the Knickerbocker snowstorm became D.C.’s deadliest disaster 100 years ago

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.