Say it ain't so. With "official" spring practically at our doorstep, a late-season storm was poised to pummel parts of the Northeast — in many places where snow has been AWOL for most of the winter.
The National Weather Service posted a blizzard watch for coastal regions, including New York City and Boston, for Monday night into Tuesday. A winter storm watch was issued for much of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New England.
The storm, billed as a potential nor'easter, comes as brutal payback for a mild winter and a particularly toasty February that ushered in early buds on trees, shrubs and flowers. It was the nation's second-warmest February since climate tracking began in 1895. Sixteen states experienced their warmest February ever recorded.
How unprecedented is a blockbuster storm in March? "It's not that uncommon," Accuweather senior meteorologist Tony Zartman said. "We usually have one or two major snowstorms in March."
The system, christened Winter Storm Stella by the Weather Channel on Saturday, was developing off the Pacific Northwest coast, Zartman said, and would merge with energy off the Texas coast and move up the Eastern Seaboard late Monday into Tuesday.
While it was too early to predict the exact timing and track of the storm, "significant amounts of snowfall — over 6 inches" are possible for parts of the Northeast, Zartman said. In the line of fire: Washington, D.C., northern Maryland, New York, central and eastern Pennsylvania and a large part of New England.
Zartman said the snow will be the "heavy, wet" kind and winds could exceed 40 mph as the storm powers up over the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Downed trees, power outages and blowing and drifting snow are all possible
"It will cause a major travel disruption, and in some places travel may be impossible," Zartman said, adding that there could be blizzard conditions in parts of New England.
During the brunt of the storm, northeasterly winds will pull ocean water toward the coast and create rough surf from Virginia to Maine, Accuweather predicted, leading to tides 1-2 feet above normal. Coastal flooding and beach erosion are also a concern.
On Saturday, another system was bringing snow into the Northern Plains and would move into the Tennessee Valley and Carolinas on Sunday. The "light snow event" will see accumulations of 1 to 3 inches, Zartman said.
Even without the snow, an arctic chill in the last few days has had a grip on much of the north-central, northeastern U.S. and the Mid-Atlantic Plants, flowers and trees that popped during the mild weather could be at risk.
Peak bloom of Washington's beloved Cherry Blossom trees — originally predicted for an early March 14-17 date — are now expected March 19-22, the National Park Service said last week. But frigid temperatures could take a devastating toll on the buds, which are on the brink of flowering thanks to 70-degree temperatures last week and are no longer protected from the elements.
"This is sort of the perfect storm," Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told WUSA. "We've reached a critical stage, the fourth stage, peduncle elongation."
Peak bloom occurs when 70% of the Yoshino cherry trees, the most numerous of the 12 species around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park, are in bloom. The flowers can last four to 10 days once they have hit full bloom stage, the Park Service says.
"Twenty seven degrees can see the loss of 10% of the blossoms," Litterst told WUSA. "That drops to 24 degrees, you could lose up to 90% of the blossoms."
Zartman, who says forecasters will be fine-tuning snowfall prediction maps in the coming days, acknowledges this might not be the news spring-fever folks want to hear.
"We are in a state of flux between winter and spring. Winter is still around here," he said.