A half-foot of snow or more is expected in Western Maryland today -- with the Baltimore metropolitan area escaping with a heavy lashing of rain -- as the first major northeaster of the season moves up the coast from the Carolinas.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch in effect through midnight tonight.
The worst is not likely to arrive until late this afternoon, once the storm has moved just northeast of the state and hooks up with strong ocean winds, forecasters said.
"The winds will wrap around this low pressure system and will cross Maryland from north to south, bringing a lot of rain and pushing colder air into our region -- especially out west," said Dick Diener, a weather service forecaster stationed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "The additional moisture and colder temperatures will produce significant snowfall in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties."
Some snow is expected to be mixed with rain in Baltimore as temperatures generally remain above freezing before hovering around 40 degrees.
On the Eastern Shore -- where a sudden "microburst" of 110 mph winds in Ocean City damaged more than 40 buildings Saturday night -- only rain is expected.
"That thing the other night was intense as a tornado -- people were terrified and rightly so," said Clay Stamp, director of emergency management for Ocean City. "But what we're dealing with now is a northeaster, which we traditionally haven't had violent weather with."
The connection between today's storm and the freakish weather of the past weekend -- in which heavy rains and gale winds were accompanied by thunder and lightning before snow and temperatures began falling -- is a strong jet stream high in the sky.
"The other night it turned rain into snow almost immediately," said Mr. Diener, noting that winds of 56 mph were logged at the airport.
Today, that same jet stream will join the northeaster and cause havoc at least until tomorrow night.
"But then we still have to see," he added.
The State Highway Administration had crews on standby throughout Maryland last night in anticipation of today's storm.
In the Anneslie neighborhood in Baltimore County just north of the city line, the hum of power saws filled the brisk, chilly air yesterday as workers removed large oaks felled during Saturday's storm.
The 500 block of Anneslie Road was closed to traffic as one large tree lay in the middle of the road and a second crossed a front lawn, uprooted by strong winds.
Ione Summerson had been reading a newspaper in bed when she heard a roar and then a loud bang late Saturday night.
"I didn't see any lightning, so I thought it was thunder," said Mrs. Summerson, 72, watching as workers hauled away tree branches and blocks of wood yesterday. "Then I looked out my den window and all I could see were leaves."