Call it the Payback Storm of 2013.
After a winter and a half of relatively mild weather, a powerful storm is expected to pound the state Friday, with a triple-threat combination of up to 2 feet of snow, high winds whipping up blizzard conditions, and heavy waves battering the coast, the National Weather Service says.
“It has the potential to be a historic storm, one that’s talked about years later,” said weather service meteorologist Hayden Frank.
Forecasters issued winter storm watches for the state, warning that travel may become nearly impossible at times during the storm, which will begin Friday morning, hit hard Friday afternoon and night, and then taper off from west to east on Saturday.
A weather service snowfall forecast map released this afternoon showed up to 2 feet of snow falling on much of the state, except for the south coast, where up to 18 inches were predicted, and the Cape and islands, where only up to 10 inches were forecast. The westernmost edge of the state was also forecast to get up to 18 inches.
The storm comes as a rude reawakening after the state had experienced a relatively snow-free winter last year and so far this season. That had come as a welcome relief after the heavy, incessant, roof-bending snows of the winter of 2010-2011, which included the 10th biggest snowfall ever recorded in Boston, when 18.2 inches of snow fell on Dec. 26-27, 2010.
Frank said there was a possibility that Friday’s “multi-faceted” storm could muscle its way into the top 10, which is led by a 27.6-inch snowstorm in February 2003.
“The potential is there,” he said. “We’re still more than 48 hours out, but that’s a possibility.”
The forecasters said blizzard conditions were possible Friday in Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk counties because of a combination of fast-falling snow and wind gusting up to 55 miles per hour, which could result in poor visibility and even white-out conditions.
The forecasters also issued high wind watches for Bristol, Plymouth, Dukes, and Nantucket counties, saying winds could lash 35 to 45 miles per hour with gusts tearing up to 65 miles per hour along the south coast, and some possibly reaching hurricane force, 74 miles per hour.
The powerful storm could cause moderate coastal flooding Friday evening and moderate to major flooding at Saturday morning high tide. Forecasters issued coastal flood watches for Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk counties. Shore roads could become impassable, structures could be put at risk, and beaches could be eaten away by heavy surf, the forecasters said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Charlie Foley said forecasters are hoping the storm pulls out of the state by Saturday afternoon, when the tides are supposed to get even higher.
The storm is expected to arrive a day after the memory-stirring 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, which hit the state Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 of that year.
Foley said the storm “is somewhat similar, but certainly not to the magnitude, as the 1978 Blizzard. The recipe is moisture streaming into the area and cold air already in place — it’s generally the recipe for how we get significant snows in New England.”
The major unknown at this point is whether the snow will mix with rain along the coast, driving down snowfall totals, and where this could happen, said Foley.
The heaviest snow will fall from about 9 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Saturday, said boston.com weather blogger meteorologist David Epstein.
Temperatures will drop to the upper 20s in Boston Thursday night into Friday before they rise to an above-freezing 35 degrees Saturday, the weather service said.
Once the storm system passes, temperatures will recover, starting on Sunday when they are expected to reach the high 30s, followed by several days in the 40s early next week, the weather service said.