By DENISE LAVOIE and HOLLY RAMER, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — A major winter storm heading toward New England may not be one for the record books, but even some of the nation's snow-hardiest people should proceed with caution, according to at least one expert.
As much as 2 feet of snow could fall on a region that has seen mostly bare ground this winter, the National Weather Service said. That's exciting for resort operators who haven't had much snow this year.
The storm would hit just after the 35th anniversary of the historic blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed the region with more than 2 feet of snow and hurricane force winds from Feb. 5-7.
"This has the potential for being a dangerous storm, especially for Massachusetts into northeast Connecticut and up into Maine," said Louis Uccellini, director of the weather agency's National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
Uccellini, who has written two textbooks on Northeastern snowstorms, said Wednesday it was too early to tell if the storm would be one for the record books. But he said it will be a rare and major storm, the type that means "you can't let your guard down."
The snow will start Friday morning, with the heaviest amounts dumped on the region that night and into Saturday as the storm moves past New England and upstate New York, the National Weather Service said.
A blizzard watch for parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island said travel may become nearly impossible because of high winds and blowing snow.
A coastal flooding watch also is in effect for some shore communities in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long Island.
Thanks to the ability to make their own snow, the region's larger ski resorts aren't as dependent on natural snowfall, though every bit helps.
At Mount Snow in Vermont, spokesman Dave Meeker said the true value of the storm will be driving traffic from southern New England northward.
"It's great when we get snow, but it's a tremendous help when down-country gets snow," he said. "When they have snow in their backyards, they're inspired."
Assuming the snow clears out by the weekend with no major problems, ski areas in Massachusetts also were excited by the prospect of the first major snowstorm they've seen since October 2011.
"We'll be here with bells on," said Christopher Kitchin, inside operations manager at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Mass. "People are getting excited. They want to get out in the snow and go snow-tubing, skiing and snowboarding."
Tom Meyers, marketing director for Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass., said that at an annual conference of the National Ski Areas Association in Vermont this week, many participants were "buzzing" about the storm. He said the snow will arrive at an especially opportune time — a week before many schools in Massachusetts have February vacation.
"It is perfect timing because it will just remind everybody that it is winter, it's real, and get out and enjoy it," Meyers said.
The snowmobile season in northern New England started off strong, but after rain and warm weather last month, many trails in Maine turned essentially to thick sheets of ice, said Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association executive director.
"People got a taste of it," he said, "and there's no question they want some more."
Ramer reported from Concord, N.H. Contributing to this report were AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington and Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., and Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine.
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