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The nation's capital looked set to be spared snow brought by a winter storm heading towards the East Coast on Wednesday - but instead faced thunderstorms later in the day.

A pocket covering south-central Pennsylvania down into northern Virginia and over Washington, D.C., was likely to be hit by thunderstorms, according to The Weather Channel's lead meteorologist Kevin Roth. He added there was a 5-10 percent chance of a tornado touching down in the area.

Gusts could reach up to 50 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

"The storms in D.C. will be just in time for the evening commute and the strong wind gusts could cause people problems on the roads," Roth said. "The storms look likely develop in the mid-to-late afternoon and peak between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m."

Thunderstorm warnings in a large pocket on the East Coast.Smith, Alexander (206418009) / The Weather Channel

He added: "The tornado threat is a low threat, but the threat is there. The biggest city in the under-threat area will be D.C."

Tornado season in the United States peaks in May. Twisters are not uncommon in March, but these mostly form in an area known as "Tornado Alley" - which stretches from Texas to Georgia and up into Kentucky.

NBC Washington said the storms would be followed in D.C. by a dramatic 40-degree temperature drop in the evening, reaching below freezing from a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon.

New York City was also not expected to get any snow on Wednesday but could experience "some rumbles," Roth said.