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01/21/2016 03:05 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2016

NOAA Warns People To Take Snow Storm Threat Very Seriously

Seven states and Washington, D.C. have issued storm watches.
Director Louis Uccellini speaks during a news conference on a winter storm forecast January 21, 2016 at the NOAA Center for W
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Director Louis Uccellini speaks during a news conference on a winter storm forecast January 21, 2016 at the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland.

The 50 million Americans living in the path of a potentially "paralyzing" snowstorm heading for the Northeast should take this weather event seriously, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials urged Thursday.

"I would suggest that people pay attention to this system," said Louis Uccellini, the director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. "They should take action... We're seeing everything line up for a major storm system to impact the eastern third of the country." 

Weather forecasting models in the U.S., Europe, the U.K. and Canada all showed a consensus on the storm's pattern seven days out -- a very unusual occurrence, Uccellini noted. 

"I don't remember seeing modeling systems having this much consistency," he said.

The heaviest snow will likely start falling in the Mid-Atlantic by Friday afternoon or early evening, forecasts predict. The storm is expected to progress up the coast to New York City by Saturday morning. 

People should be prepared for very strong winds and flooding along the coast, Uccellini said. Coastal residents shouldn’t worry about Superstorm Sandy-level conditions, however, as the storm is traveling parallel to the coast, not perpendicular. 

A blizzard watch has been updated to a blizzard warning in the Washington, D.C. area. The area is expected to be inundated with two feet of snow, CNBC reports, bringing it very close to breaking a record set in 1922 when 28 inches fell.

The National Weather Service has also issued blizzard and winter storm watches in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. 

"We have the entire team, basically all hands on deck, with respect to this storm system," Uccellini said. He expects to see some NOAA staff "sleeping in the offices during the event" and "many students out there working on their theses about this storm."

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