The potential for chaos continues to loom as this weekend’s winter storm nears the Mid-Atlantic.

Blizzard and winter storm watches and storm warnings stretch like a tongue from Arkansas to New York. The storm is like the Hydra, with multiple threats expected across the U.S. from heavy snow to even the possibility of tornadoes.

“This is a dangerous storm that could affect over 50 million people,” Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said.

Washington DC snow map

Snow forecast for Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Washington is inside the red box.

In many ways, the storm has unfolded in a textbook pattern. It’s a pattern Uccellini certainly knows well, having co-written the definitive textbook on winter storms in the region.

What’s surprising is how certain models have been about the storm’s track and impact since the beginning of the week. Normally, models arrive at slightly (and sometimes majorly) different outcomes because they each use data and initial conditions differently.

“To have this level of consistency, (model) run-to-run consistency. We’re living in interesting times. I just haven’t seen it,” he said.

That comes with a silver lining, though, because it’s given people in the storm’s path time to get ready ahead of time.

Major cities in the storm’s track are already preparing. Earlier today, mayors in New York and Washington, D.C. outlined their plans to deal with the incoming snow, wind and potential coastal flooding. Washington has already canceled school for Friday while in New York, the situation room is ready and has a travel advisory in place.

“The sooner you can get ahead of an event, the better off you are,” Uccellini said, noting that recovery after a major 2013 storm was hampered because of a lack of preparation on Long Island resulting in numerous motorists being stranded and cars being abandoned.

While New York’s subway isn’t expected to shut down during this storm, Washington’s metro will close for the whole weekend.

The snow sweet spot continues to be the Mid-Atlantic. The National Weather Service is forecasting around 24 inches of snow in Washington, with higher totals in the western suburbs. If the forecast pans out, that would make this the second-snowiest storm to ever strike the nation’s capital. The highest snowfall total recorded from a single storm in Washington is 28 inches, which fell from Jan. 27-29 in 1922.




But if the storm overperforms, it could easily take the top of the record books. The National Weather Service worst case scenario (unless you really like snow) has 33 inches falling in the city with up to 38 inches in the far western suburbs.

New York continues to be on the fringe of the storm’s heaviest snow, but 8-12 inches are still forecast for Manhattan. Up to 15 inches is possible in Philadelphia as well.

While the snow totals are less eye popping than Washington, the National Weather Service has blizzard watches in place for both cities and the surrounding New York area out to Long Island. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of snow for a blizzard. It takes a lot of wind instead, reducing visibility.

Coastal flooding, while not on par with Hurricane Sandy, could still inundate parts of the Mid-Atlantic. With the brunt of the storm arriving at high tide, it could fuel coastal flooding. However, New York’s subway is most likely safe and most areas that saw the most severe Sandy flooding won’t have to relive it.

“Sandy had an incredible fetch that really drove water in over two tidal cycles,” Uccellini said. “And the storm was moving perpendicular to the coast. This storm will be running more parallel.”




Of course, that’s not to say you should take this storm lightly if you live on the coast. The storm could still enter the record books for some areas, but damage isn’t likely to be as severe as Sandy.

Oh yeah, there’s also the threat of ice. Further south, icing is likely in parts of the Carolinas. Up to half an inch of ice could render roads treacherous and also bring down power lines (the snow could do that, too, and outages are possible in plenty of other areas).

Uccellini said up to 7 million people could be dealing with the impacts of icing. That could affect this weekend’s NFC Championship game in Charlotte, though right now officials are planning to go ahead with the game.

Oh yeah, and there’s also the threat of severe weather. Like we said earlier, this storm is Hydra-like. On Thursday and Friday, the Southeast faces the threat of severe weather that could spawn tornadoes and hail as the storm rakes across the region. The main risk on Thursday is in Louisiana and Mississippi. On Friday, the risk shifts eastward to the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.




El Niño kinda sorta maybe has a role. Sorry, California. Not all El Niño impacts in the U.S. belong to you.

Uccellini said that “El Niño is part of the story” with this storm. The storm initially came ashore in the Pacific Northwest earlier this week but has since dipped across the southern half of the country. During El Niño years, the jet stream tends to dip further across the southern edge of the country, and that’s what’s helping guide this storm along its way.

“You get in the January to February timeframe, and you see low pressure systems develop a southern track. That is related to this strengthening jet over the Pacific. It really does setup a background stage for this system to develop and track the way it is tracking,” he said.