(CNN) — The anticipation lingers another day for the folks around Washington. All week, the forecast has promised a blizzard of epic proportions. Come Friday, it will be on their doorstep.
All indications are that this will be one nasty snowstorm with the potential to dump up to a couple of feet of snow across the region.
“It’s not out of the question that some localized areas receive over 2 feet of fresh snow,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
And one more thing: They’ll be whipped by 50- to 60-mph winds.
“That will create blizzard conditions, as well as coastal storm surge, erosion and flooding,” Ward said.
But while waiting for the blizzard to come, the nation’s capital got sucker punched. A relatively light dusting left the metropolitan area a slippery mess.
With less than an inch of snow forecast, most roads were left untreated.
Virginia State Police untangled accidents by the hundreds Wednesday evening and early Thursday. An officer was hurt in one of the crashes. A person was killed in another.
Washington’s mayor asked everyone to stay off the roads so crews could treat them. But the damage was done.
Commutes home turned into hours-long affairs. Many drivers didn’t get home until well after midnight.
Even the commander in chief had to reckon with the wintry mix. Video shows President Barack Obama’s motorcade using hazard lights Wednesday as it made its slippery way from Joint Base Andrews to the White House. He was unable to fly on Marine One because of the weather.
Thursday morning’s was another frustrating drive as some icy spots lingered and commuters left early to allow plenty of time for the ride in.
Preparation is everything
Heaters, shovels and sleds flew off the shelves at Strosniders Hardware in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ice melt chemical? Gone, too.
“They know (the storm is) coming,” manager Roy Washington told CNN affiliate WJLA. “They hear the forecast, and they want to be prepared for it.”
Grocery stores got slammed as well. The beer, bread and milk aisles are always cleaned out early.
Ready the plows
Communities along the East Coast were preparing for the wintry onslaught, piling up salt and positioning snowplows. But roads weren’t the only worry.
“If this is a blizzard and we have sustained winds and people lose power and it is cold over a sustained period of time, that would be my biggest concern,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in February 2010’s “Snowmageddon” storm, which cut power to hundreds of thousands in the region.
One for the record books?
For this weekend’s storm to be one of historic proportions, snow accumulations in the capital would have to top 28 inches.
That would exceed the calamitous “Knickerbocker Storm” of 1922, which dumped 28 inches and killed nearly 100 people when the roof of a theater by that name collapsed under the weight of the snow.
Tens of millions of East Coast residents are in the storm’s path.
Mid-Atlantic is the target
While Washington appears to be in the storm’s bull’s-eye, most of the Mid-Atlantic states — and a few points west — will take a hit from the storm system.
“The potential exists for a swath of 1 to 2 feet from eastern Kentucky across West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” said Ward, the CNN meteorologist.
It is less certain whether New York City, Philadelphia and Boston will see heavy snowfall. Depending on which way the storm goes, 2 to 15 inches are possible.
Also, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky and North Carolina will see ice as the storm moves east Thursday into Friday.
Talk of a possible blizzard came on the same day the federal government reported that 2015 was the Earth’s warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. But big snows can occur even in the warmest of years. Despite the snowiest winter on record for Boston, the state of Massachusetts still ended 2015 with temperatures far above average.