A major winter storm is forecast to sweep through parts of the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast starting early Wednesday, sending heavy snow, freezing rain and strong winds surging through the region into Thursday.

The storm, a nor’easter, is expected to stretch from North Carolina up through Virginia before advancing north, blanketing some areas with up to 2 feet of snow, the National Weather Service said. The onward march of severe weather could also bring ice accumulations, tree damage, power outages, closures of schools and businesses, and dangerous travel conditions, the service said.

When will it start snowing?

The storm will unleash a hazardous mix of rain and then heavy snow starting Wednesday, kicking off in western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, where it will let loose sheets of freezing rain, the Weather Service predicted.

From there, the system is expected to migrate and spread, stretching as far north as Boston, southern New Hampshire and Albany, New York. It could affect areas as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington and Northern Virginia.

Late Wednesday morning, heavy snow is forecast to overtake areas near and northwest of Interstate 95 in the Mid-Atlantic region. Washington, Philadelphia and other major cities can expect to be blasted with a wintry mix of rain and snow.

By Wednesday evening, the system will churn farther northeast, dropping heavy snow on northern New Jersey and southern New York state, including New York City, the Weather Service said. By Wednesday night, the effect of the winter storm will be felt in southern New England, the service predicted.


How bad will it get?

Forecasters warned there could be power outages, downed trees and hazardous travel. The relentless freezing rain at the start of the storm could gradually compound into layers of ice more than a quarter-inch thick in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, weighing on branches and electricity infrastructure.

Western Maryland and southern central Pennsylvania are forecast to bear the brunt of snow accumulations, with as much as 2 feet of snow falling, possibly leading to dangerous travel conditions and isolated power outages, the Weather Service said. Up to 2 feet of snow could blanket eastern Pennsylvania to northwest New Jersey.

More than 6 inches of snow is forecast from eastern West Virginia to southeast Massachusetts, but in areas along Interstate 95, including from central Maryland to Long Island, the outcome is uncertain, depending on whether there is a mix of rain or snow.

A rapidly moving system, gone on Thursday

The storm is fast moving, so although its effect will be fiercely felt when it does hit, the system will not linger.

As of midday Tuesday, about 15 million people were under a winter storm warning, meaning storm conditions are imminent. They include parts of Virginia, West Virginia and western Maryland, which was expected to receive heavy snow Wednesday morning, continuing through a good part of the day.

About 40 million people are under a storm watch, including those in the New York City and Boston areas, as of midday Tuesday, and those watches will most likely be upgraded as the storm moves closer to them, said Bob Oravec, a Weather Service meteorologist in College Park, Maryland.

In New York City and into southern New England, the snow will be heaviest in the late afternoon and will come down heavily Wednesday night and into early Thursday morning.

“The snowstorm is going to have a huge impact on travel,” Oravec said. “It will be an issue, but it is not going to be an event that is too long-lasting.”