Berkshires, region poised for winter storm, bitter cold

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Just when you thought the miserable winter weather of the past 10 days couldn't get any worse, forecasters are warning, you ain't seen nothing yet.

A coastal storm described as a "bomb cyclone" is moving up the Eastern Seaboard, and the latest track predicted by computer models brings it closer to western New England than first expected.

Based on increased confidence as the storm approaches, the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., has issued a strongly worded winter storm warning in effect all of Thursday until 1 a.m. Friday for Berkshire County, southern Vermont and northwest Connecticut.

Because of strong winds and intense snowfall, it will feel like a near-blizzard, said meteorologist Joe Cebulko. Dangerously cold wind chills from 15 to 35 below zero are likely, especially in the aftermath of the storm Friday and Saturday, and tree branches could come down in some spots.

The combination of heavy snow and blowing snow whipped up by fierce winds will cause especially difficult travel during the day and into the evening on Thursday, he warned.

Responding to the storm warnings, Gov. Charlie Baker closed all state offices on Thursday for non-emergency, executive branch state employees.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will activate its underground operations headquarters in Framingham on Thursday morning to coordinate any assistance requested by cities and towns.

In a statement late Wednesday, Baker urged everyone to stay off roadways if possible, allowing crews to clear snow throughout the day.

"Travel will be significantly impacted with snow covered roads, low visibility and possible white-out conditions," Baker stated. "Motorists should stay off the roads and use public transit when possible. If you must drive, please exercise caution, `don't crowd the plow' and stay behind snow removal equipment on the roadways."

Citing the risk of power blackouts and flooding along the Massachusetts coast, he urged residents "to be prepared, help neighbors and be mindful of local notices throughout the storm."

Total snow accumulation of 6 to 8 inches is expected in Berkshire County, with even higher amounts up to 10 inches in the hilltowns to the east of Pittsfield, Great Barrington and North Adams, forecasters noted.

The most intense snowfall is expected from Thursday morning into the mid-afternoon, Cebulko said, with lighter snow lingering into early Friday morning.

A "bomb cyclone" refers to a rapidly deepening low-pressure storm center, he pointed out — in this case, just east of Cape Cod. The intensity of the storm is caused by extremely frigid polar air meeting relatively milder ocean air.

The Boston area is expected to take the most direct hit, with up to a foot of snow and blizzard conditions in the city and along the coast from Cape Cod to Maine. Flights in and out of Logan International Airport are likely to be canceled.

"Travel will be very difficult to impossible" in eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service office in Taunton, south of Boston.

The storm originated in the southeast U.S., where residents in parts of northern Florida witnessed a rare snowfall accumulation along with icy roads and dangerously low temperatures for that part of the country.

Temperatures fell to 35 in Jacksonville, Fla., and New Orleans; 23 in Jackson, Miss.; 28 in Atlanta;and 9 in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., breaking a 130-year-old record there.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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