Experts forecast rain, sleet early, then wet, heavy snow, strong winds toward evening
When you wake up this morning, you may peer out your window and see some snowflakes, but probably nothing that hints at a major storm that could dump 1 to 2 feet of snow.
It's the calm before the storm.
"At first, you may be caught off-guard," Quincy Vagell, Storm Team 8 meteorologist, said. "During the morning, you may see a wintry mix, but past 5 o'clock, that will all change."
Vagell said a moisture-filled storm moving up the Gulf of Mexico is meeting up with another in the Great Lakes, combining to make one powerful winter weather system.
Snow was expected to start after midnight, changing into a mix of rain and sleet this morning. As the afternoon progresses, the wintry mix is forecast to change back into snow.
The result, when it's all done sometime around midday Saturday, is predicted to be 16 to 26 inches of snow for shoreline towns and 17 to 29 inches inland.
The storm's arrival is just a couple of days after the 35th anniversary of the historic blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed the region with hurricane force winds and more than 2 feet of snow.
Vagell said Thursday he doesn't believe the storm will reach those epic proportions.
"Our biggest concern is on the shoreline, where there will be stronger winds and more heavy, wet snow," he said.
But school districts throughout the region began announcing Thursday that schools would be closed today.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard watch starting this afternoon and continuing through Saturday afternoon. A blizzard watch means there is a potential for falling and blowing snow, which will create whiteout conditions and poor visibility — less than a quarter of a mile. Wind gusts could reach 50 to 60 mph, Vagell said.
The snow should exit the region by lunchtime Saturday.
Vagell said the storm could bring down trees and wires and cause widespread power outages.
Mitch Gross, Connecticut Light & Power spokesman, said the company has been preparing for the storm, getting its hundreds of workers and equipment ready.
"Everyone knows the storm is coming, and while we are getting ready, we are also encouraging our customers to be ready and have a storm kit prepared," Gross said.
He said high winds pose the biggest concern.
Judd Everhart, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said crews will be pre-treating the roads in advance of the storm.
A full fleet of 632 plow trucks is ready to go, and another 200 contracted trucks are on call. The trucks will be dispatched as needed throughout the day.
Everhart is asking people not to travel on roads unless it is absolutely necessary.
"We are ready to go no matter what," he said. "We've dealt with storms of this magnitude in the past."
Bracing for the storm, residents began stocking up Thursday on essentials.
ShopRite in New London was busy Thursday afternoon with customers carting off cases of bottled water and groceries.
Among the shoppers were David and Joyce Kay. They filled their cart with, among other things, chicken, salad and hamburgers, before heading home to Mystic.
They had just returned Thursday morning from a trip to balmy Orlando, Fla., and were facing both a house with little food and an impending snowstorm.
"We really need to stock up," David Kay said with a smile.
At NSA Supermarket in New London, manager Williams Diaz said he saw many customers coming in Thursday, but he expected today to be even busier.
Amariliz Martinez and Julio Arizmendi of New London were shopping for staples — milk, bread, fruit, rice, salt and beans — at NSA Thursday evening.
Arizmendi said stocking up was necessary "just in case" of storm-related events such as power outages. Martinez added it's also nice to not have to leave the house to get groceries in snowy weather.
While stocking up on food was important, so is being vigilant if driving during the storm, Martinez said.
"The main thing is driving carefully," she said.
Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this report.