Old Man Winter started to hurl snow at the Berkshires on Wednesday night, a prelude to today's forecasted sleet and freezing rain that will be part of the area's first major winter storm in more than a year.
Snowfall predictions Wednesday evening ranged from 4 to 8 inches in South County to 8 to 16 inches in the northern Berkshires by the time the storm pulls away tonight, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y. A winter storm warning is in effect for Berkshire County until 7 p.m. tonight.
If the snowfall prediction holds true, the amounts would be the most since the pre-Halloween storm in 2011, which covered the area with up to 2 feet of snow.
"The storm is taking a perfect track to pummel the Berkshires with mostly snow," said NWS meteorologist Steve DiRienzo.
Heavier snowfall was reported in Great Barrington Wednesday night around 7 p.m., and in Pittsfield at around 7:30 p.m. It was expected to mix with sleet and freezing rain overnight in parts of South County, lasting into this morning.
The storm system that touched off tornadoes in the southern U.S on Christmas Day was expected to be off the Cape Cod coast by tonight, its effects still felt locally.
"I expect the snow will linger through Thursday evening," DiRienzo said.
By Wednesday afternoon, local highway crews had an army of snowplows equipped with salt and sanders ready to attack the snow, sleet and freezing rain forecasters were expecting.
"We're all set to get going," said Dennis Kelly, assistant superintendent for the Lee Department Public Works. "We've been working on our equipment all day to get ready."
Local public works bosses hope the storm stays mostly snow for the sake of their crews and motorists.
"Give me 6 to 8 inches of snow anytime," said Great Barrington's DPW Superintendent Joe Sokul, "but throw ice on top and it changes everything -- it's a whole new ballgame."
In anticipation of significant snow accumulation, Pittsfield late Wednesday morning had declared a snow emergency resulting in an on-street parking ban through 7 a.m. Friday. No vehicle is allowed to park or be left unattended on any city street, except North Street where parking is allowed between the hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the snow emergency.
Violators will have their vehicles towed at the owner's expense.
Individuals who have no off-street parking available may park their cars in the three-hour public parking areas of the McKay Street and Columbus Avenue parking garages without penalty.
"The snow emergency will help our guys get the streets cleared," said Pittsfield Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.
He urged those traveling in the storm to drive to the conditions and plan for more time to reach one's destination.
"Lighter traffic all-around, thanks to Christmas week, will also make our job easier," Collingwood said.
The only weather-related accident reported in the county by 9 p.m. was a car sliding off the road in Otis, according to a dispatcher with the Sheriff's office. There were no injuries.
The storm is good news for winter sports enthusiasts, especially snowshoers and cross-country skiers, who suffered through a virtually snowless winter of 2012 in the Berkshires.
"I got a store full of people, so everyone's excited," Berkshire Outfitters Owner Steve Blazejewski said from his Adams business Wednesday evening. "We've been busy all day with people buying everything from snow shoes to snow tubes. Everybody's very excited considering last year we had no snow."