Northeast and mid-Atlantic faces first major winter storm posing hazards for over 30 million people

More than 30 million people are under winter alerts as the Northeast braces for its first major winter storm of the season. Snow, ice and gusty winds will make for hazardous conditions this weekend from the mid-Atlantic to New England.

Winter weather advisories covered an area from western North Carolina to western New York, and winter storm warnings extended farther than that, into New England.

Freezing rain was forecast for western North Carolina by daybreak Saturday, and around a quarter of an inch of ice could accumulate in the Roanoke Valley.

Cities and towns along Interstate 81 in Virginia, such as Blacksburg, Roanoke and Harrisonburg, run the greatest risk of experiencing icy conditions. Black ice, power outages and traffic pileups could become a problem as ice accumulates.

Snow is forecast to rapidly move into the Northeast, with the heaviest snow limited to areas north and west of Interstate 95.

Those living in areas along or near Interstate 95, including New York City and Philadelphia, will see snow quickly transition to rain Saturday afternoon. Immediate coastal areas will experience all rain during the duration of this event.

Along with torrential rain, the southern tail of this system could bring stronger storms across Florida. Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are all located within the area with the highest risk for damaging winds and a brief tornado.

By Sunday evening, the center of the storm will move off the New England coast, but not before spreading more snow and wind across parts of that region. Travel delays from slick roadways and gusty winds are expected, even as snow tapers off in the late evening.

The storm system had been forecast to potentially bring damaging wind gusts and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast on Friday, but nothing significant had been reported to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, according to its website that lists reports.

Rain moved over New Orleans, and there was a special marine warning off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, on Friday, weather service offices for the two cities said.

Snowfall totals

Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; and Portland, Maine, could each see up to half a foot of snow through Sunday, with a dusting of an inch or two expected in New York City and Philadelphia.

New York and Philadelphia’s record snow drought would come to an end if each city sees an inch or more of snow this weekend. Washington, D.C.’s snow drought is likely to continue, however, with dwindling chances for accumulating snow for that area.

The speed of this storm will make for a relatively quick event, with rapid transitions between snow, sleet and rain. Everywhere south of New York City will face the brunt of this storm on Saturday, while areas to the north and west of the tri-state area will experience the greatest impacts Sunday.

Major city timing and totals

  • Washington, D.C.: A mix of snow and sleet is forecast to begin around 7 a.m. ET Saturday morning and continue to about noon before switching to all rain and ending around 8 p.m. ET. No snowfall accumulation is expected for the district, but there could be some accumulation across the north and west suburbs.
  • Philadelphia: A mix of snow and sleet is forecast to begin around noon Saturday and continue until about 4 p.m. ET before switching over to rain. By the time all precipitation ends just after midnight, there could be a dusting of snow. Drivers will more likely experience wet roadways.
  • New York: New York’s wintry mix of rain and snow will likely begin around noon Saturday and continue until about 7 p.m. ET. Heavy rain will take over until the early morning hours on Sunday. A dusting of 2 inches of snow will be possible, with any accumulation likely to occur on colder surfaces such as grass, sidewalks and cars.
  • Boston: Snow is forecast to begin just after dinnertime on Saturday night and continue until midmorning on Sunday. Three to 6 inches of snow can be expected at this time.

No dry January

The active start to January shows no signs of slowing down, with more storms in pipeline going into the second week of the month.

Meteorologists are already eyeing Monday through Wednesday of next week for a potentially high-impact storm system that will affect nearly the entire country from coast to coast.

This storm system will have a severe thunderstorm side and a winter weather side.

Regarding the severe thunderstorm threat, Monday could see storms capable of bringing large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast. This includes the Houston area, where the college football national championship will take place.

Monday night into Tuesday, the severe threat shifts east to encompass much of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. These storms could produce a few significant tornadoes, including during the nighttime hours.

The wintry side of the storm system could bring heavy snow combined with high winds to produce possible blizzard conditions across the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes. Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cleveland are some cities that could see disruptive snow and power outages due to high wind.

The mid-Atlantic, Northeast and New England will also be affected, but this time by heavy rain and the risk for flash flooding, including river flooding. All of the major cities along the I-95 corridor are likely to experience a risk of flash flooding, especially Tuesday into Wednesday. The areas that pick up the most snow from the weekend system will be extra vulnerable to flash flooding due to heavy rain combined with rapid snowmelt.