A long overdue blast of winter weather bore down on Maryland today, bringing thunderstorms, wind gusts in excess of 60 mph, falling temperatures and snow late today to Western Maryland.
The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of snow was possible in the extreme western portions of the state late today in the wake of a cold front moving across Maryland, dropping temperatures out of the 50s and 60s toward the teens tonight.
For central Maryland, the clash of cold, arctic air to the west and warm tropical air pushing up from the south brought downpours and thunderstorms, with winds increasing as the colder air approached.
"This morning has been just a kind of a whirlwind," said forecaster Bob Melrose, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "All the stops were out."
Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued at midmorning for Howard and Carroll counties, and watches were issued for 12 other Maryland counties, including the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Forecasters at BWI said a line of heavy thunderstorms raced northeast at 50 mph ahead of a warm front late in the morning, crossing northern Virginia, the West Virginia panhandle and Maryland at 50 mph, felling trees, knocking out power lines and pelting some areas with pea-sized hail.
Damaging wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph were reported during the storms, with a 61 mph gust reported at Westminster.
State Police in Westminster reported downed power lines, minor traffic accidents, roof damage, and many activated burglar alarms as the front passed through.
The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reported 16,450 customers without power in the wake of the storms, with 5,900 still in the dark at mid-day.
Tornado watches were issued for Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester and Cecil counties.
Thunderstorms and gusts of up to 87 mph were reported in central and eastern Pennsylvania. A "possible" tornado was spotted in York and Lancaster counties, the weather service reported.
The Associated Press reported heavy trees down in Lancaster County, Pa., and a large barn blown across a roadway.
By tonight, a cold front pushing east will have pushed temperatures to the upper 20s, with gusty northwest winds diminishing to 10 to 20 mph. Highs tomorrow will be in the low- to mid-30s. Thursday's highs will be in the upper 20s to low 30s, with a chance of snow showers.
The arctic wake-up call is long overdue. Daily average temperatures at BWI have been 2 to 15 degrees above normal so far this month, Melrose said. Overnight lows at BWI have reached the teens only twice this winter, on Dec. 19 (16 degrees) and Dec. 20 (14 degrees).
Last night's low was a balmy 48 in Baltimore, adding a dense fog to the light rain that slowed travel early today in many areas.
It was partly sunny and dry again by mid-day after the first front passed through, and still 65 degrees at 1 p.m. today in downtown Baltimore.
The mild weather has cut heating-fuel consumption by 8 percent in the suburbs, and by 23 percent downtown, the weather service said.
The wintry weather was to move in behind the deepening cold front later today, packing strong northwest winds. A secondary cold front tomorrow night could leave Baltimore with "a dusting" of snow, Melrose said.
High-wind warnings and a snow advisory were posted for extreme Western Maryland. High temperatures there tomorrow will stick in the 20s.