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Major snowstorm could slam Eastern U.S.

Last Updated Jan 19, 2016 7:39 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- Tens of millions of Americans from Washington to Boston and the Ohio Valley could be walloped by an end-of-the-week snowstorm, meteorologists say.

Although it's still early, computer forecast models all see a windy, strong slow-moving storm. The big questions are where and how much.

"There's going to be a big storm. Somebody's going to get walloped," said Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at College of DuPage outside of Chicago, which should be spared. "It does look like it's going to be a doozy."

Rich Otto, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center outside of Washington, said some major cities will likely see a foot or more of snow. Other meteorologists talked about 18 inches, two feet and more.

Gensini said the heavy snow is likely because the system will be slow moving. Forecasters see Saturday as the worst day in the East.

Early Tuesday, the Weather Prediction Center said the storm could be historic, but Otto said that may have been going a bit too far.

"Things will change; that's a guarantee," Otto said. "Nothing ever stays the same with these forecasts."

Otto said an upper-level disturbance in the air is moving from the Pacific to the Rockies to the southern plains. It should pass over Texas, hit the Ohio Valley, join with other unstable air and become a nor'easter Friday evening over the Mid Atlantic, moving up the coast on Saturday.

"Since the storm is arriving on a southern track, impacts will include Kentucky, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Northern Virginia into D.C., then Philly," said meteorologist Ryan Maue of the private WeatherBell Analytics.

Then once it gets up north, expect strong winds -- gusting easily to 50 to 60 mph -- beach erosion, and storm surge in the New Jersey area, Maue said.

CBS Boston's chief meteorologist Eric Fisher says this could be a very significant storm up and down the East Coast. Forecasters say 50 million people in the East could be in the path.

On Tuesday, a bitter blast is gripping New York. Frigid temperatures are battering the Tri-State for a second day as people struggle to stay warm, CBS New York reports.

While the temperatures are expected to climb to a high of 29, the Arctic air and gusty winds will make it feel like it's between 10 and 15 degrees for most of the Tri -State area and colder for the northern and western suburbs.

"It's really, really cold today," said Long Island City resident Vanessa Santos to CBS New York. "It's horrible, it's worse than yesterday."

"Yesterday and today were both pretty cold, especially in the morning, but when it gets to the afternoon I can handle it," said East Orange, New Jersey resident Clay Justice.

Construction worker Max Cabrera said surviving in this weather is all about the clothing.

"I have layers on top of layers," he said.

In Washington D.C., with subfreezing temperatures on Tuesday and the potential for several inches of snow this weekend, it looks like winter has finally arrived, CBS Washington D.C. reports.

There's potential for a major winter storm beginning on Friday and continuing into Saturday, dropping anywhere from 6 inches to more than a foot in the D.C. area, CBS D.C. reports.

Snow may start accumulating on the ground, including roads, as early as Friday morning, and the heaviest snowfall is predicted for 4 p.m. Friday through 1 p.m. Saturday.

In Philadelphia, temperatures in the teens on Tuesday felt more like single digit weather. Over at the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, the wind chill factor made it feel close zero, CBS Philly reports.

People heading to work and school couldn't find refuge fast enough.

"Yeah it's really cold out here this morning. Bundle up because it's cold out here," said one person.