Snow will likely top 20 inches

This winter’s respite from severe storms appeared to be heading Wednesday toward a dramatic end as the National Weather Service warned of an approaching blizzard likely to drop 20 or more inches of snow between Friday afternoon and Saturday night.

The forecast calls for 21 to 23 inches as the most likely accumulations throughout Shenandoah, Warren and southern Frederick counties with a potential for up to 34 inches in some places. All areas from Stephens City south to New Market and east to Front Royal are deemed to have no less than a 61 percent chance for amounts exceeding 18 inches.

The Weather Service issued a winter storm watch from Friday morning through Saturday night for counties throughout northern Virginia. Forecasters expect snow to begin falling after 1 p.m. with temperatures near 29 degrees.

Northeast winds are likely to reach 15 to 20 mph with gusts around 30 on Friday night before shifting to the north on Saturday and then to the northwest on Saturday night. The Weather Service is warning that travel is expected to be “severely limited if not impossible” on Friday night and Saturday. The forecast calls for temperatures ranging from the mid to upper 20s in the valley, and the teens and lower 20s in the mountains.

A 100 percent chance of snow is predicted for Friday through Saturday with the chances diminishing to 50 percent Saturday night. Sunday is expected to be sunny with a high of 36.

Although the blizzard is still more than a day away, Ray Martin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, said he does not expect the forecast snow accumulations to change much. The blizzard could be among the biggest in the area’s history.

“There’s potential for this to be a top five snowstorm,” Martin said.

Martin said the El Nino weather pattern this winter appears to be influencing the weather in ways similar to the one in 1983. Martin said the 1983 winter was also marked by an extended snowless period followed by the appearance of a major storm.

“You could say history is almost repeating itself in some respect,” Martin said.

Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie of Warren County Fire and Rescue Services said residents should be especially vigilant about preventing fires during a blizzard when firefighters may have trouble traveling on streets and roads. He warned against using candles or generators inside a house during a power outage.

Mabie said notices have been sent out to fire stations to ready their equipment for bad weather, adding that he is also planning to have extra firefighters on duty.

“We are very fortunate here in Warren County that there are a lot of people very vigilant about fire safety and looking out for their neighbors,” Mabie said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com