Violent weather system could spawn blizzard in Western Md., damaging winds in Baltimore

A strong low-pressure system causing blizzards across the Midwest is forecast to bring potential white-out conditions in Western Maryland and damaging winds across the Baltimore area Friday and Saturday.

Heavy snow combined with strong winds could create blizzard conditions with near-zero visibility in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. Up to 14 inches of snow could accumulate, with a blizzard warning in effect for western Allegany County and a winter storm warning for Garrett County. The bulk of the snowfall is expected Friday, with wind gusts up to 40 mph.


While scant, if any, winter precipitation is expected in the Baltimore area, Central Maryland is under a high wind watch for Saturday morning and afternoon. Forecasters expect sustained winds of up to 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, prompting utility officials to warn of possible widespread power outages. Wind chills are expected to make temperatures feel below freezing.

The storm system has wrought damage and cut power across the nation's midsection, with blizzard conditions from Kansas to Wisconsin and tornado damage and warnings in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm with at least 35-mph winds blowing snow that limits visibility to a quarter-mile or less.

In Garrett County, officials are preparing for a second major storm after superstorm Sandy paralyzed the area in October. Power outages lasting up to a week affected the vast majority of the county's residents after 2 feet of snow downed trees and power lines.

By this time of year, the county is used to heavy snowfall, but the heavy winds could make travel difficult or impossible, said Brad Frantz, Garrett's emergency management coordinator. Emergency officials are also concerned about residents who recently purchased portable generators; during Sandy, eight people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning when they didn't properly ventilate their generators.

Crews have worked in recent weeks to clear debris from Sandy, which could help limit power outages in this storm, Frantz said.

In Baltimore, higher winds Saturday could cause outages, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. warned. There is a slight chance of a wintry mix of precipitation Friday afternoon and evening. Temperatures are forecast in the mid-40s, but the winds could make it feel close to or below freezing Friday and Saturday.

Forecasters expect a sharp difference in pressure to generate the damaging gusts. The low-pressure system is expected to move from the Midwest into New England with a strong high-pressure system behind it, said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office in Sterling, Va.