A high wind warning is in effect across Maryland for what the National Weather Service is calling “one of the most powerful windstorms in recent years.”
The storm began Thursday night and may last until Sunday. Gusty winds of over 30 mph are expected, with gusts of 60 to 70 mph starting early Friday morning and lasting until midnight. Overnight, gusts reached 69 mph in parts of Frederick and Montgomery counties, 49 mph in Edgemere and Annapolis, and 52 mph at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to the weather service.
More than 126,000 Marylanders were without power as of 11:00 a.m. and some ice and snowy precipitation made for a tricky morning commute.
A number of public school systems, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Carroll counties, closed Friday due to the storm. Most area attractions were operating as normal, though Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore delayed its opening until noon.
State transportation officials warned of dangerous driving conditions. The I-95 Tydings Bridge and US 40 Hatem Bridge temporarily closed for excessive winds.
“Two overturned tractor trailers currently being worked,” the Maryland Transportation Authority tweeted.
In Baltimore, wind was blamed as a tree uprooted and fell onto cars traveling on an avenue northeast of Lake Montebello.
Some mass transportation is limited, too. MARC train service is suspended for the day due to weather conditions.
Gov. Larry Hogan urged Marylanders to take the warnings seriously and to prepare for power outages and hazardous travel conditions beginning Friday morning.
“Be sure to check on your family, friends, and neighbors so that we all are prepared for this rare and potentially very dangerous weather event,” he said in a statement.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency said it is monitoring the storm.
“If at all possible, do not go out during the height of the storm,” MEMA Executive Director Russ Strickland said.
Marylanders should be prepared for long-lasting power outages by charging devices and keeping flashlights and spare batteries on hand, according to the weather service.
“Damaging winds will blow down trees and power lines. Widespread power outages are expected. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles,” forecasters warned.
People should also secure lightweight objects outside like trash cans and lawn furniture to prevent them from blowing away and potentially causing more property damage.
And forecasters warned that even large trees could fall. At the University of Maryland, College Park, a massive tree lining McKeldin Mall was knocked over by the strong gusts.
“These prolonged damaging winds will definitely be capable of bringing the largest of trees down, especially considering recent rainfall soaking the soil,” meteorologists wrote in a forecast discussion Friday morning.
Kevin Mullinary, district manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Baltimore, said his company had already received about 20 calls for downed trees in the region by 11 a.m.
He responded to a situation in Catonsville where two trees fell onto an apartment building, ripping a hole in the roof.
“The winds are putting a lot of pressure on trees,” he said. “After about 50 mph, that’s the magic point where wind starts doing damage to even healthy trees.”
The winds are the product of a potent coastal low-pressure system that brought a cold front through the region overnight. Strong winds blow from areas of high pressure to low pressure, like air escaping from a balloon, and forecasters said the winds are all the more intense because those pressure extremes are relatively close together as the storm moves across the Eastern seaboard.
There are possible hurricane-strength winds of 80 to 90 mph on Cape Cod. The Boston area and south to Rhode Island is forecast to get 2 to 5 inches of snow from the late-winter storm. Also, heavy snow fell in Ohio, upstate New York and eastward.
Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker activated 200 National Guard members to help with the storm.
In New Jersey, officials worried that the squall could take a chunk out of beaches just south of Atlantic City that are still being repaired because of damage from previous storms. Winds were expected to increase drastically throughout the day, peaking Friday afternoon with gusts from 50 mph to 60 mph that could leave downed trees and power lines.
Airlines were making their own preparations. Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and American Airlines were allowing travelers to change their Friday and Saturday flights ahead of time to avoid delays and cancellations at key airports across the Northeast.
Back in Baltimore, lows are forecast in the lower- to mid-30s Friday and Saturday nights, with highs in the upper 40s through the weekend.
MEMA advised that some snow is possible in Western Maryland, tidal flooding could occur along the Chesapeake Bay, and some beach erosion is possible in areas of the Eastern Shore.
In Annapolis, the Harbormaster’s Office offered free mooring Thursday as the forecast for dangerous winds through Saturday morning worsened. City Harbormaster Beth Bellis said the offer is intended to keep boats that normally anchor around Annapolis waterways from dragging anchor and causing injury or property damage.
The Associated Press, along with Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Talia Richman, Christina Tkacik and E.B. Furgurson III, contributed to this story.