* Winds of 50 to 80 mph expected along the coast
* Heavy spring snow to blanket higher elevations
* Thunderstorms, tornadoes possible in some areas
By Alex Dobuzinskis
April 21 (Reuters) - Heavy rains and snow will soon pound the eastern United States, possibly leading to downed trees, power outages and flight delays as a low pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico moves through the region, meteorologists said on Saturday.
Intense precipitation from the Nor'easter storm will start on Sunday, with two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) of downpour expected along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, which will make for soggy conditions in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
"It's going to a very, very intense Nor'easter," said Michael Eckert, senior branch forecaster with the National Weather Service based in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour (48 to 80 kph) are expected on the coast.
"The weather will be going downhill during the day on Sunday," Eckert said.
On Sunday night, the inland side of the weather system will see an influx of cold air, as falling rain morphs into heavy snow that will blanket western parts of New York state and Pennsylvania, as well as West Virginia, he said.
Higher elevations could see up to 12 inches (30 cm) of snow, the Weather Service said.
That could lead to downed branches and even trees. As a result, forecasters expect broken power lines and widespread outages in some areas.
This weather pattern would produce a blizzard if it had come in January, but because the spring air is warmer the storm is not expected to be as severe, Eckert said.
Nevertheless, airports in New York, Boston and Philadelphia could see flight delays on Monday due to the storm, said Eckert, who works for the Weather Service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.
On Saturday, Minnesota had a few small tornadoes that struck in the western half of the state, the National Weather Service said. They caused no injuries but damaged barns near the town of Milan and to a flower shop in Lucan, said Weather Service meteorologist Bryon Paulson.
"We had everything, rain, nickel-sized hail, small tornadoes and snow," he said.
The town of Chisholm in northeast Minnesota received nearly 6 inches (15 cm) of snow, after getting a foot (30 cm) a week ago. That followed a mild winter with little snow, he said.
In Florida, a flood watch was canceled but the state braced for powerful thunderstorms overnight packing wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) and the potential for tornadoes, Weather Service meteorologist Barry Baxter said.
Some showers and thunderstorms will occur in Florida later on Sunday, but they will not be as intense as what the state experienced on Saturday, Eckert said.
On Saturday, some showers fell on cities in the Northeast, ahead of the more intense storm arriving on Sunday, said Alan Reppert, meteorologist with private firm AccuWeather.com. (Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; additional reporting by Andrew Stern; editing by Todd Eastham)