LOWELL -- National Weather Service forecasters expect anywhere from 8 to 14 inches of snow to fall across the Merrimack Valley as a powerful winter storm arrives early Thursday morning.

The snow should start early Thursday shortly after midnight and increase in intensity through Thursday night and Friday morning, with sleet and freezing rain also coming down at times.

The storm is expected to drop just a few inches on the coast since there is warmer air to the east and south of Massachusetts that will make the snow change over to rain earlier in those locations.

Lowell and the Merrimack Valley fall close to the line where forecasters expect the snowfall to drop off quickly, but National Weather Service Meteorologist Kevin Cadima said Lowell is expected to get approximately 10 inches.

In Fitchburg, Leominster, and North Central Massachusetts, forecasters are even more confident that 10 to 14 inches of snow will fall, since those areas are further from the coast and the warm air to the east.

Forecasters also expect visibility as low as a quarter-mile as snow falls at 1-2 inches per hour at times, and winds blow at 10 to 20 mph, with gusts of up to 35 mph, according to a Winter Storm Watch in effect for Thursday morning to Friday morning.

Forecasters warn that travel on Thursday and early Friday morning will be dangerous, especially on untreated roads.

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