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Groundhog weekend storm may chug right along the Eastern Seaboard or veer out to sea

Meteorologists are narrowing down the scenarios of a potential Groundhog weekend storm that they first began monitoring closely late last week -- and a storm track well inland of the East Coast, which could have served up drenching rain in the Appalachians and snow back in the Ohio Valley, is being ruled out.

However, a disruptive storm tracking within a couple hundred miles of the Atlantic coast as well as a harmless path out to sea are still possibilities.

The exact route and strength of the storm will determine the western extent and the amount of rain versus snow from the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts to the Appalachians.

The latest indications are that a storm will develop either over the Gulf of Mexico or the southeastern corner of the United States on Friday before moving northeastward and nearly hugging the Northeast coast or swinging wide right during Saturday.

The path of the southern storm will depend on whether or not a second, weaker storm cruising along the border of Canada and the U.S. will be able to join up quickly or if that merge will be delayed.

"If the two storms join quickly, then the southern storm will rapidly strengthen along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts and precipitation could expand inland from the Interstate 95 corridor to the I-77 and I-81 corridors," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek weighed in Tuesday.

"But even if the storm tracks close to the coast, marginal temperatures are still unlikely to bring all snow to the I-95 mid-Atlantic region," he added.

In fact, rain would fall from the Georgia coast to the Carolina and Virginia Piedmont and central Delaware to southern New Jersey. All or mostly rain would fall in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, with rain and perhaps some wet snow for Philadelphia and New York City.

Farther north, with the near-coast storm track scenario, there would be an increasing potential for more snow and less rain in southeastern New England.

"A strengthening storm is more likely to make its own cold air by cooling the atmosphere with intense precipitation," Dombek said.

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Snow would also be the favored form of precipitation from the mountains of western North Carolina, where the atmosphere will be a tad colder, to central and northern New England where more widespread chill is likely.

However, even in the valleys from western Virginia and eastern West Virginia to central Connecticut marginal temperatures may once again allow rain during part of the storm if it would take a path near the coast.

The snowfall pattern in this scenario would add to already above-normal totals this season so far for places like northern New England -- and the lack of snow would further contribute to the snow drought lingering in the mid-Atlantic and central Appalachians.

AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Jonathan Petramala recently visited snowy Caribou, Maine, and he spoke with road crews that have been busy keeping roads safe this winter.

A rapidly strengthening storm that hugs the coast would generate gusty winds for a time and has the potential to become a strong nor'easter this weekend. Heavy precipitation would pound the East Coast as northeasterly winds buffet the coastline should a powerful nor'easter take shape.

Forecasters say the storm may strengthen quickly enough to be classified as a bomb cyclone. The official criteria for a storm to reach bomb cyclone status is a central barometric pressure drop of 0.71 of an inch of mercury in 24 hours (or a 24 millibar drop in 24 hours).

Even if the storm does not undergo bombogenesis, gusty winds could lead to flight delays even without any heavy snow or low visibility in the forecast. Also, where the winds blow onshore for a time along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, coastal flooding could occur.

AccuWeather meteorologists are still giving the far eastward track scenario a hard look at this stage. Such a track would make Eastern Seaboard travel concerns a moot point.

"If the merge between the two storms is delayed, then a track farther out to sea is more likely with the main, southern storm," Dombek said.

"In this scenario, most of the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts would be dry while snow showers from the border storm would stretch from the Great Lakes to the Appalachians," Dombek said.

Travel problems may be extremely limited or non-existent in the swath from Atlanta and Charlotte to New York City and Boston with the way out-to-sea scenario.

However, snow showers across the interior could pose patchy slippery conditions and sudden low visibility from the mountains to the Great Lakes on Saturday and Saturday night.

Whether or not the storm hugs the coast or swings out to sea, fast movement would not warrant the need to hoard milk and bread. It is not the type of storm that would bury the I-95 corridor with feet of snow as fast movement should limit accumulations regardless of the exact track.

If snow were to reach the Appalachians, it would likely be managed by fairly routine plowing and shoveling operations. Most regular school schedules may be little affected in the wake of the storm by Monday.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on the storm potential, impact and forecasts into this weekend.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.