The state's emergency operations center was to open Wednesday morning, and state transportation officials advised motorists to avoid travel at the height of the storm.
"The snow is going to come down at a very fast rate," agency spokesman Sandy Myers said. "We just need folks to stay off the roads so the plow drivers can hopefully keep up with the storm."
The Baltimore-Washington area's last snowstorm struck Jan. 26, 2011. It hit Washington during the evening rush hour, causing some motorists to be stuck in traffic nearly overnight. It dropped 5 inches on Washington and 7.8 inches on Baltimore, knocked out power to about 320,000 homes and contributed to six deaths.
Since then, the federal government has changed its bad-weather policies to allow workers to leave their offices sooner or to work from home if major storms are expected.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which sets leave policies for 300,000 federal workers, said non-emergency employees of the federal government would be granted excused absences for Wednesday. The agency was criticized after the 2011 storm for waiting too long to tell workers to go home, leading to gridlock.
Still, some Mid-Atlantic residents were looking forward to the snow. "I love it — I love it when we have snow days," Baltimore homemaker Mary White said Tuesday afternoon as she hurried to finish errands.
The current storm is part of a system that started in Montana, hit the Dakotas and Minnesota on Monday and then barreled through Wisconsin and Illinois on its way to Washington.
Associated Press writers Alex Dominguez in Baltimore and Ben Nuckols in Washington, Wayne Parry in Long Beach Township, N.J., Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., Don Babwin and Jason Keyser in Chicago, Kevin Wang in Madison, Wis., Amy Forliti in St. Paul, Minn., and Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.