In almost any other winter, local meteorologists might be talking about the imminent prospect of the biggest snow of the season.
Not in the winter of 2009-10, however. Recall that close to two feet fell on Dec. 19 and 20, while only four 20-inch-plus snowstorms have occurred since 1884.
That said, a respectable 12 to 18 inches could pile onto an area from eastern West Virginia to Philadelphia tomorrow night into Saturday - with perhaps more to follow, said Carl Erickson, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., the private service in State College, Pa.
"It looks like a parade of systems the next couple of weeks," he said.
First things first. Yesterday, computer models evidently were consulting dueling rulers, spitting out varying snow totals - typical behavior two days before a storm. However, a substantial snowfall appeared all but certain.
Yet again, the storm might hit hardest to the south of Philadelphia, as has been a pattern - along with storms arriving on weekends.
Richmond, Va., has had almost as much snow as Hartford, Conn. "It's been crazy," said Sharon North, spokeswoman for Richmond's Department of Public Works. Richmond has been hit with two major snowstorms this season. North said that would be expected - "if we were Syracuse."
The Baltimore-Washington area, which again could wind up in the bull's-eye this weekend, has had twice as much snow as New York City.
Meteorologists say two persistent features have stood this winter on its head in the East.
A strong El Niño, the abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific, has juiced up a storm track from the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast Atlantic Coast.
Once those storms have developed, they have encountered a barricade of cold, dry air to the north, the result of unusually high air pressure in the Arctic and North Atlantic.
As a result, the west-to-east jet-stream winds in the upper atmosphere, which govern the movement of storms and cold air, have sagged south across the East, Erickson said.
With the pattern so persistent, he added, storms have kept to a fairly consistent schedule, approaching the region every three to 31/2 days, or two storms every six or seven days. So if it seems some of those storms keep showing up on weekends, they have.
What is different about the one approaching this weekend is that the cold, dry barricade looks to ease a bit, allowing for more widespread heavy snow, Erickson said.
Richard Hitchens, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., which covers the Washington area, said he wouldn't object if Mother Nature picked more on his northern neighbors this time.
Asked if he had about had it with snow, Hitchens, who lives in Fairfax, Va., at first balked, exercising standard caution befitting a government employee.
"We're not supposed to express personal opinions," he said, "but I'll give you an inside scoop: Yes."
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