Concord, N.H. - A blizzard heading to New England could make travel nearly impossible and dump up to 2 feet of snow on a region that has seen mostly bare ground this winter.
The snow will start Friday morning, with the heaviest amounts dumped on the region that night and into Saturday as the storm moves through New England and upstate New York, the National Weather Service said.
A blizzard watch for parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island said travel may become nearly impossible because of high winds and blowing snow.
"This has the potential for being a dangerous storm, especially for Massachusetts into northeast Connecticut and up into Maine," said Louis Uccellini, director of the weather agency's National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
Uccellini, who has written two textbooks on northeastern snowstorms, said Wednesday it was too early to tell if the storm would be one for the record books. But he said it will be a rare and major storm, the type that means "you can't let your guard down."
The storm would hit just after the 35th anniversary of the historic blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed the region with more than 2 feet of snow and hurricane force winds from Feb. 5-7.
No one is wishing for a repeat, but skiers, snowmobilers and other outdoor enthusiasts were hoping for just enough snow to turn around a disappointing season.
The snowmobile season in northern New England started off strong, but after rain and warm temperatures last month, many trails in Maine turned essentially to thick sheets of ice, said Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers.
"People got a taste of it, and there's no question they want some more," he said.
Nearly all of Vermont's snowmobile trails opened after Christmas but riding lately has been limited to hard-to-reach mountain areas. Riders hope this week's storm will bring enough snow to cover bare and icy patches.
"I'd say maybe 75 percent of the trail system may be back up and running if we got a good 8-inch storm," said Matt Tetreault, trails administrator for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.
Thanks to the ability to make their own snow, the region's larger ski resorts aren't as dependent on natural snowfall, though every bit helps. At Mount Snow in Vermont, spokesman Dave Meeker said the true value of Friday's storm will be driving traffic from southern New England northward.
"It's great when we get snow, but it's a tremendous help when down-country gets snow," he said. "When they have snow in their backyards, they're inspired."
Assuming the snow clears out by the weekend with no major problems, ski areas in Massachusetts also were excited by the prospect of the first major snowstorm they've seen since October 2011.
"We'll be here with bells on," said Christopher Kitchin, inside operations manager at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Mass. "People are getting excited. They want to get out in the snow and go snow-tubing, skiing and snowboarding."
Tom Meyers, marketing director for Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass., said that at an annual conference of the National Ski Areas Association in Vermont this week, many participants were "buzzing" about the storm. He said the snow will arrive at an especially opportune time - a week before many schools in Massachusetts have February vacation.
"It is perfect timing because it will just remind everybody that it is winter, it's real, and get out and enjoy it," Meyers said.
Still that may be too late for Michael Amarello, director of the Horse Hill 7K snowshoe race, which is scheduled for Saturday in Merrimack, N.H. He said Wednesday that he hadn't yet decided whether to postpone the race, but was leaning in that direction. Race organizers wouldn't have time to mark the course if it's snowing hard Friday afternoon, he said.
"We want snow, but we don't want snow Friday night - we want snow today or tomorrow!" he said.