Government and private forecasters issued confident predictions of a major winter storm -- ones that easily point to the heaviest single-day snowfall of the winter season -- for the Berkshires as well as all of New England and eastern New York on Friday.
Anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of snow are expected in Berkshire County, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., and AccuWeather.com. According to the outlooks issued on Wednesday night, the brunt of the storm is expected to arrive after dark Friday, following periods of moderate snow earlier in the day. Southeastern portions of the county should see the highest amounts of snow.
"It will be a crippling type of snowstorm, not epic, we’ve had bigger ones," said meteorologist Kevin Lipton at the NWS office. "It will severely impact travel and people’s plans. It’s not quite a blizzard, but still obviously a major-impact storm with areas of blowing and drifting snow."
As Lipton outlined the expected scenario, the coastal storm system will deepen rapidly off the mid-Atlantic coast Friday, with snow becoming steadier and heavier during the afternoon before reaching top intensity in the evening and overnight into Saturday, with snowfall rates easily exceeding one inch per hour, even approaching two inches per hour at times.
High winds, with gusts of 20 to 40 mph, will intensify the effects of the snowstorm, he predicted.
A winter storm watch is posted for Berkshire County, the rest of southern and central New England and all of eastern New York state. Government forecasters are likely to upgrade that to a warning by this morning.
The severe weather will be caused by a double-barreled storm -- the merger of a moderate-intensity system from Ontario, Canada, and the Great Lakes with a much stronger system developing off the Virginia coast Thursday and intensifying quickly Friday as it hugs the shore toward Long Island, N.Y., and Cape Cod and the Islands before exiting toward the Canadian Maritimes on Saturday.
Much of New England, except for far northern areas, will be hit by an all-out blizzard and up to two feet of snow, according to senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski at AccuWeather.
"Lingering effects from blowing and drifting snow, blocked roads and other travel delays are likely into much of the weekend," he advised via the AccuWeather.com site.
Numerous flight delays and cancellations are expected at Logan Airport in Boston and at the New York metro airports.
Strong winds could cause white-out conditions and massive drifts, Sosnowski stated.
"At the height of the storm, snow can fall at the rate of 2 to 4 inches per hour and may be accompanied by thunder and lightning," he added.
The hardest-hit areas are likely to include Hartford, Conn., and Providence, R.I., extending northward to Boston, Worcester, Concord, Portsmouth, N.H., and Portland, Maine.
The only previous snowfall in the Berkshires this winter totaled 15 inches at Pittsfield Municipal Airport over a three-day period beginning Dec. 26. For the season, the grand total of 24 inches so far is less than half the average based on 75 years of National Weather Service records at the airport.
Temperatures will continue below seasonal levels through the weekend, with overnight lows from zero to 10 and daytime highs barely making it to 30. By next Monday, forecasters expect a brief early-February thaw with highs in the 40s and possible rain showers.