The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch ahead of the looming coastal storm that is expected to drop more than a half-foot of snow on parts of New Jersey and generate wind gusts as strong as 50 mph along the Jersey Shore.
The watch — which is not as urgent as a warning — essentially puts the state on notice that there’s a high probability of accumulating snow and hazardous conditions during the next 48 to 72 hours.
As of late Friday afternoon, 10 counties are included in the winter storm watch: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Salem. The watch goes into effect at 10 a.m. Sunday in Cumberland and Salem, and 4 p.m. Sunday in the other counties, lasting until 1 a.m. Tuesday in each area.
In addition to heavy snow — with accumulations of 4 to 8 inches possible in parts of central and western New Jersey, and some pockets of 8 to 12 inches — the weather service says winds could gust as high as 40 mph to 50 mph in coastal areas, “creating significant blowing and drifting of snow.”
“Travel could be very difficult,” the weather service’s storm watch notes. “The hazardous conditions could impact the Monday evening commute.”
Based on the latest computer guidance models, forecasters are expecting light snow to begin falling late Sunday morning or early Sunday afternoon, starting from west to east, and lasting through late Monday or early Tuesday.
“A period of wintry mix or rain could occur Sunday night and Monday morning, especially along and near the coast, before turning back to snow Monday afternoon,” the weather service said in its storm watch. “The highest snowfall rates are most likely to occur late Monday.”
Earlier Friday afternoon, forecasters said big questions still remain over the storm’s track. The track is one of the biggest keys in determining how much snow, rain or mixed precipitation will fall in each region of New Jersey and nearby states.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty with this storm system,” said Sarah Johnson, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s regional forecast office in Mount Holly.
Johnson said the latest computer guidance models have been hinting that the storm — a low pressure system in the middle of the atmosphere that has been dumping huge amounts of snow in the western United States — might take a more southerly track as it moves across the nation.
If it remains on that southerly track, that will push the snow/rain dividing line farther south, which would favor lighter snow in North Jersey and more snow in central and southwestern New Jersey. Complicating the job for forecasters is trying to figure out where the heaviest pockets of snow will set up, Johnson noted.
In addition, it’s not yet known how much sleet and rain will mix in with the snow in South Jersey and along the eastern coastal areas.
Forecasters are also concerned about the threat of moderate flooding in coastal sections of the state, because the storm could intensify over the Atlantic Ocean and push large volumes of water onto land, especially during high tide cycles Monday and Tuesday.
A forecast map issued by meteorologists at NBC4 in New York is calling for as much as 8 to 12 inches of snow across a large swath of Monmouth and Ocean counties and farther south, 5 to 8 inches of snow along the I-95 corridor in Central New Jersey, and 3 to 5 inches in much of North Jersey.
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Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.