Updated: Wed, 06 Feb 2013 20:55:26 GMT | By Andrew Mach

Blizzard watch for Northeast as 'powerful' winter storm approaches

Two maps using different weather forecast models, the Euro model (© top)

Two maps using different weather forecast models, the Euro model (top) and GFS model (bottom), display varying amounts of snowfall for a storm expected to hit the Northeast on Friday.

Updated at 4:30 a.m. ET:

A blizzard watch was issued by the National Weather Service early Thursday as a powerful winter storm threatened to dump up to 2 feet of snow across much of the Northeast on Friday night and into Saturday.

Snow and strong winds will intensify across the region and travel “may become nearly impossible with blowing and drifting snow” as the weekend begins, the NWS said in an alert issued at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Gusty northeasterly and northerly winds may approach 50 mph during the height of the storm, added NBCConnecticut.com meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan.

But while there is no doubt a major storm is headed for New England, forecasts are still divided on whether the area will see snowfall for the record books or just a light dusting.

As much as 2 feet of snow could fall, the NWS said, depending on where a clipper system and a belt of southern rain meet off the east coast.

"This has the potential for being a dangerous storm, especially for Massachusetts into northeast Connecticut and up into Maine," Louis Uccellini, director of the weather agency's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, told The Associated Press.

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He said it was too early to tell if the storm would be one for the record books, but added: “You can't let your guard down." 

Various forecasts for Boston on Friday call for anywhere between three to 43 inches of snowfall.

Forecasters cite different forecast models, namely the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), or Euro model, and the Global Forecast System (GFS) model of the U.S.

“The European model has continued to insist there is going to be this really big storm but the other models are not bullish on it at all,” the Weather Channel’s Carl Parker said Wednesday. “The difference is – will it be a blockbuster for places like Boston?”

Tom Niziol, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said inside a meteorologist's toolbox is "an ensemble of weather forecasting models that complement -- instead of compete against -- each other by measuring different data." 

Although meteorologists assess several models every day, the Euro and GFS models are two primary indicators of weather in the U.S.

The Euro model, with forecasters headquartered in Reading, England, is generated by a computer system that contains the world's largest archive of numerical weather prediction data, forecasting weather events from 15 days to 12 months in advance, according to the Center.

The GFS model produces forecasts up to 16 days in advance, but with decreasing resolution over time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the models work together, Niziol said the European model is generally considered the best.

"There are and will continue to be times when one model may continue to outpace another model for a variety of reasons," Niziol said. "Recent verification has suggested that European model on average does just a bit better than some of its model counterparts when predicting forecasts."

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