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A fierce snowstorm is aiming a direct hit at western New England, southern Vermont and eastern New York, with predicted snow totals now topping up to a foot or more in Windham County.

An updated winter storm warning from the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., warned of very difficult travel conditions from Wednesday night into midday Thursday, with a strong impact on the morning commute tomorrow. The warning extends from 4 p.m. Wednesday until 1 p.m. Thursday.

Strong winds are expected to cause blowing and drifting snow on area roadways overnight until Thursday afternoon.

The first flakes were likely to fly in southern Vermont after 9 on Wednesday night, and the snow is expected to taper off and end by noon Thursday.

Steve Barrett, director of Brattleboro’s Department of Public Works, said his crews were getting ready for an estimated snowfall of one inch and hour, with a total accumulation of between 10 and 15 inches of snow.

“Low temperatures along with steady wind will cause low visibility and snow drifting,” said Barrett. “But our crews are ready for the upcoming storm to provide safe travel for residents and emergency services.”

He said the overnight parking ban is in effect on streets and in parking lots. Parking is available in the Brattleboro Transportation Center, said Barrett.

In Rockingham, highway foreman Andy Howarth said his crew was getting ready for the storm on Wednesday, with some of his new employees going over their routes to make sure they were familiar with them.

“We are putting plows, wings and chains on. We have had all equipment ready for over a month,” he said in an email message. “We have a few new guys that have been going over there runs getting comfortable with them.”

“Other than that we deal with it when it gets here,” he said.

Because of the storm, the Everyone Eats! Brattleboro free meals distribution program is canceled for Thursday, according to a post on its Facebook page. The program was set to have additional meals available for distribution Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the CF Church Building parking lot at 80 Flat Street in Brattleboro.

The track of the storm hugging the New England coast means 12 to 18 inches of snow, according to the government forecasters, with the heaviest snow between midnight and 8 a.m. on Thursday, falling at a rate of one to two inches per hour.

Bennington and Windham counties in southern Vermont are expected to see 5 to 9 inches overnight Wednesday, and an additional 3 to 5 inches on Thursday. At least a foot of snow is predicted in the New York and Boston metro areas, as well as upstate New York, with totals dropping north of Albany.

With temperatures hovering in the teens to low 20s, the snow will be dry and fluffy, allowing for rapid accumulation, forecasters pointed out.

Dry and very cold weather is expected through the weekend, with no additional major storms on the horizon over the five-day period through next Tuesday.

Winter storm alerts covered eight states from North Carolina to Massachusetts, AccuWeather reported. More snow is expected from the developing nor’easter than from all of last winter’s storms combined in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

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Shipping delays affecting coronavirus vaccine distribution and Christmas gift deliveries are expected, adding to the crush already affecting the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and other services.

Andrei Evbuoma, a meteorologist and weather research analyst at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., took to Twitter to say that the storm would likely be “the biggest December storm in a decade.”

Evbuoma called the storm “a meteorologist’s dream,” adding that it would be his first Nor’easter.

That dream, he said in an interview, means that for the southern part of Bennington and Windham counties, it could mean 12 to 18 inches of snow. In the northern part of the two counties, the impact will be less, with a range of eight to 12 inches of snow, he said.

Evbuoma said that the Wednesday night-Thursday storm is part of a trend during the past 20 to 30 years of “wetter, warmer” storms.

He said the sea surface temperature is responsible.

“We’re seeing warmer winters and stormier winters,” he said.

According to records on file at the National Weather Service, the biggest storms in the two southern counties came on Dec. 19, 1986, when 34 inches fell in West Wardsboro, with the biggest storm in Bennington County on March 14, 1984 when 37 inches fell in the northern Bennington County town of Peru.

Most recently, the region had a big storm on Dec. 3, 2019, when 22.6 inches of snow fell.

By far the biggest snowstorm on record for the region fell in March 1888, when a total of 46.7 inches of snow fell during a three-day storm that started on March 11 and ended on March 14.

The National Weather Service in Burlington, which covers all of the Vermont counties with the exception of Bennington and Windham, listed three December storms in its Top 20 list of storms, again with the Christmas storm of 1969 the biggest at 29.8 inches of snow. Second best came on Dec. 14, 2003, when 18.8 inches fell, with the third on Dec. 25, 1978, when 16.9 inches fell.

“We have had a few big storms in December,” said Howarth, the Rockingham highway foreman. “The one I remember the most was Christmas Day about 18 years ago, my first winter plowing for the town. I don’t remember the amount, but it was over a foot.”

"Mount Snow’s motto is 'We Love Snow,' so we are extremely excited for the snow this week," said Tracy Bartels, general manager of Mount Snow Ski Resort in Dover. "The cold temperatures have also allowed our state-of-the-art snowmaking system to produce more snow which will add the Sunbrook area and more runs in all areas on the mountain."

Andrew Kimiecik, marketing communications specialist at Stratton Mountain Resort, said the resort is excited to see its first big snow storm of the season.

“Significant snowfall with these cold temperatures will make for light and fluffy snow for our first powder turns of the season and expedite terrain expansion as we move into the holiday weeks,” Kimiecik said. “Get out your powder boards and fat skis; we’re looking forward to what mother nature drops on us.”

Brattleboro Reformer reporter Chris Mays contributed to this report. Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com. Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.