Winter to sock East in midriff again

Another winter storm is forecast to wallop the Mid-Atlantic this weekend, threatening to dump more than a foot of snow and snare travelers from southern Virginia to New Jersey, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm is the third major system to carry heavy snow, after a near-blizzard delivered up to 20 inches of snow from southern Virginia to southern New England in mid-December, and up to 6 inches fell Jan. 30. Both storms were worse than predicted, says Rich Bann, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

A weekend rainstorm will originate along the Gulf Coast, cross the Southeast and start icing and turning to snow in the colder states of the East Coast. The storm is forecast to drop snow along the Interstate 95 corridor from Friday morning through Sunday, Bann says.

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The East has had much more snow than usual this winter: 26.1 inches at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, which is 17 inches above normal for this time of year; 33.7 inches so far in Baltimore, 24 inches above normal; and 28 inches in Philadelphia, 13 inches above normal, Bann says.

US Airways is letting travelers change flight plans without fees for trips that begin, end or go through airports from Fayetteville, N.C., to Newburgh, N.Y. United Airlines also has waived fees.

The state of Virginia has labeled the storm a level 5, the highest, which means all snowplows, salt trucks and crews will work 12-hour shifts from Friday morning until it’s over, says Joan Morris, a state transportation department spokeswoman.

“It’s been a heck of a winter,” Morris says. “Thank goodness it doesn’t happen every winter, because it is exhausting.”

During the December storm, some supermarkets in Washington were shopped clean of bread and milk. Highway ditches from Virginia to New Jersey were strewn with cars whose drivers had lost control, and school districts closed across the region.

In Duluth, Minn., where a near-normal 54 inches has fallen this year and 2 to 4 inches is forecast this weekend, the East Coast reaction to the snow draws snickers.

“I can partly understand their sentiments, but they don’t have much of a reason to fear,” says Nick Donovick, a salesman at Northern Tool & Equipment, a hardware store. “If you stay indoors, the snow is not going to kill you.”

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