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Northeast U.S. preparing for weekend storm threatening to dump snow, rain and ice

Powerful Nor'easter to bring heavy snow, rain
Powerful Nor'easter to bring heavy snow, rain 01:49

Millions of people across the eastern U.S. are preparing for a wintry mix of precipitation as a potent storm system looks to bring snow, freezing rain and ice to the region.

The system is expected to reach North Carolina by Saturday morning and then track along the northeastern coastline throughout the weekend. It could bring to Philadelphia and other major cities amounts of snow not seen in several years.

The heaviest snowfall is expected in regions including the Poconos in Pennsylvania, parts of the Hudson Valley and portions of New England. However, winter storm warnings and watches were in effect throughout much of the Northeast.

Chris Stachelski of the National Weather Service said localized accumulations of snowfall could exceed one foot in areas of higher elevation.

Elsewhere, the concern is ice — with up to a quarter of an inch forecast for parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city was preparing for the snowstorm but wasn't expecting it to be a major event, and the timing of the snow means it would likely have less of an impact on city life. Storm surges, often a problem with winter storms, were also not expected.

"We are thankfully hoping that the projections stay where they have been trending, which is that the weather really will begin tomorrow evening into Sunday and hopefully let up in time for it to be taken care of before Monday commutes and Monday starts to school," Wu said.

A snowfall drought has been setting records across the eastern U.S. — and this storm may end it in some cities. For the number of consecutive days with less than an inch of snow, Philadelphia reached 705 days through Friday — beating the prior record of 661 days that ended on Dec. 15, 1973.

New York City went 691 days through Friday, outstripping the prior record of 383 days that ended on March 21, 1998. Baltimore reached 707 days through Friday, a record, with a prior record of 672 days that ended on Dec. 25, 2012.

Temperatures have been warmer than normal, making it hard for precipitation to fall as snow. Some storms that recently tracked through the Northeast were carrying warm air from the South and moisture that fell as rain, Stachelski said.

El Nino effects also played a role, he said, by preventing cold air from getting into the East long enough to interact with moisture that storms are bringing, which is key for precipitation to fall as snow.

Pedro DiNezio, associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric science at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the pattern of rain - rather than snow - in the fall and winter has been predicted by climate models.

"It will snow less frequently and more of the storms will dump rain as opposed to snow in the U.S. Northeast," he said.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont says it's been about two years since a major storm has hit the state.

"I think this storm's been a long time coming," Lamont said. "It's been over two years since we've had a storm of this magnitude, 6 to 12 inches. We've got a lot of salt piled up here; it's been piling up for a while (and) some shiny new snow plows."

State Transportation Commission Garrett Eucalitto said his department will have about 900 drivers on duty, including 630 snow plows. There will also be about 200 contractors working on the state highways. But he said that is fewer than in the past.

"We have about 115 vacancies right now in our driver pool," he said. "So our employees will come in tomorrow evening and they are not going to go home until the storm is concluded."

He said the state is also short about a quarter of the contractors it normally uses, because of difficulties they have had filling jobs.

Parts of central Maine were hit hard by a December storm that brought flooding and cut power to more than 400,000 customers in a state of less than 1.4 million people. Only a few hundred customers were without power on Friday, but authorities in the state cautioned residents to prepare for the weekend storm.

Authorities in Maine cautioned that another storm could closely follow the weekend snow. That storm is expected to arrive Tuesday into Wednesday and could bring snow, rain and bad road conditions, officials said.

"We urge Maine people to continue to follow forecasts and to prepare themselves in advance," said Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Pete Rogers.

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