A quick blast of snow had tapered to a little light sleet by evening Thursday, but the storm was expected to return with a vengeance overnight, dumping as much as 2 feet of snow on parts of the Berkshires before it wraps up Friday morning.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service Office in Albany, N.Y., were "99.9 percent sure" a low pressure system that brought ice and snow from Georgia to the Washington D.C. would move off the eastern seaboard and become a powerful nor'easter, setting up bands of heavy snow over eastern New York and Western Massachusetts.
"We could see snow falling at the rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour [overnight]," meteorologist Brian Furgis said. "The real accumulating snow should end by 7 o'clock [Friday morning]."
Forecasters said snow totals in the Berkshires could range from 12 to 20 inches, with the higher amounts of 18 to 24 inches in the hilltowns of the eastern Berkshires.
The total includes several inches of the white stuff that fell throughout the day on Thursday, as the leading edge of the storm packed a harder punch than expected. By 5 p.m. Becket had already seen 11 inches of snow, while the cities of Pittsfield and North Adams both reported 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
"It started a little earlier and snowfall rates were a little heavier, at times 1 inch an hour," noted Furgis.
For the second time in eight days, a major storm forced area school districts to close early or altogether in anticipation of slick road conditions.
Through the early evening hours, local and state police reported numerous fender benders or vehicles sliding off the road, but no injuries. The minor traffic mishaps included the driver of an empty school bus going off Union Street (Route 2) near the VFW in North Adams around 8:30 a.m. The driver wasn't hurt, according to city police.
In Cheshire, two tractor-trailers became disabled on Route 8 over the span of a couple hours on Thursday afternoon, but neither caused significant problems for the few other motorists who were on the road.
With the biggest snowfall of the winter bearing down on the Berkshires, Pittsfield, North Adams, Adams and Lenox declared snow emergencies, some lasting into Saturday.
As for the upcoming President's Day weekend, forecasters expect below freezing temperatures to last through Monday, with the possiblity of light snow on Saturday and Monday night. The long-range outlook indicates a warm up by Wednesday with daytime highs flirting with 40 degrees.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233