Centre County may get taste of winter

bmilazzo@centredaily.comOctober 23, 2013 

— If you looked up at the sky Tuesday, there were no signs of snow in the air.

However, meteorologists are predicting that there could be flurries in the forecast as early as Wednesday night.

With early reports of snow, State College borough already is prepared for the season in terms of snow removal and winter road maintenance, while retail stores such as Wal-Mart on North Atherton Street and Benner Pike already are stocked with shovels, snow brushes and other winter necessities.

“Mother Nature seems to drive sales in this category,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah McKinney said in an email Tuesday, adding that both State College stores were stocked with winter gear and equipment.

Meanwhile, Gary Pilato was outside Tuesday giving his father’s State College home one last exterior touch-up before the blustery weather blows in. He raked leaves and then gave the grass one last mow for the season. He said he’ll trade in the rake for a snow shovel.

“This will probably be the last time I mow the lawn for him before winter,” Pilato said. “You've got to rake the leaves and clean up the yard a bit before the snow comes. If you leave them and then let the snow fall on top of the leaves, it will kill your grass next year. You want to clean it up.”

Temperatures were in the low 50s on Tuesday, but the sun peeked out of the clouds long enough for Pilato to finish the landscaping without much shivering. Despite the chill in the air, Pilato said he couldn’t believe snow was in the forecast.

“I saw it on the news the other day. I couldn’t believe winter’s coming already,” he said. “I don’t think we usually see any flurries until Thanksgiving time.”

That’s about right.

The average first snowfall in State College lands at the end of November, said Elyse Colbert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College.

Two weather systems are forming from the Ohio Valley — one that will move south of State College and another that will travel slightly north of the area, Colbert said.

“We’re in between, so we’re kind of on the fringe of both systems,” she said. “We’re looking mainly at only the possibility of snow flurries overnight and in the early morning hours when the temperatures dip, but the snow will mainly be much farther north of here, up toward Bradford and the mountains up there.”

She said that because the lows will range at or slightly above freezing Wednesday night, the possibility of rain is more likely.

“It will be cold (Wednesday). The night’s low will be in the low 30s, so it’s right on the rain-snow line in Centre County, and it shows in the forecast we could see a few flakes,” Colbert added. “In some areas around the county, if it dips below freezing, that’s where flurries can form.”

This time of year, Colbert said the average high temperature is 59 degrees, while the low is 40.

“We’re below average right now,” she said, adding that she expects temperatures to be slightly below average the remainder of the week.

According to National Weather Service statistics, Colbert said the earliest recorded snowfall in State College came Oct. 16, 2009, when it snowed 4.7 inches. In 2011, she added, the area received 3 inches of snow on Oct. 30.

“It’s dipped down recently in October and early November due to cooler air masses into the region,” Colbert said.

Colbert said that meteorologists are keeping an eye on the northern part of Centre County, where lake-effect precipitation could be produced.

“This time of the year, we can get lake effect, which can reach down to us depending on the direction of the flow from the lakes,” she said, explaining that when central Pennsylvania receives lake effect precipitation, it often comes from lakes Superior and Erie.

However, no measurable snow is expected to accumulate. Measurable snow, according to NWS, is any amount that forecasters can measure with a stick.

Throughout the day Wednesday, scattered showers are expected and could turn into flurries late at night, Colbert said.

Highs will be in the upper 40s with temperatures cooling toward freezing, Colbert said.

Thursday’s high will be in the upper 40s with lows in the low 30s. Winds over the Great Lakes may produce lake-effect precipitation.

While the area won’t see any measurable snow, Mark Whitfield, Public Works director for State College borough, said his department is ready for snow removal and road maintenance.

“We are preparing all year and ready when the time is right,” he said.

The borough has an annual 2013 budget of $135,000 that goes toward snow removal and winter road maintenance, spokeswoman Courtney Hayden said. This year’s budget is $2,000 more than last year’s projected budget. She said of the $133,000 in 2012, the borough only ended up spending $86,000 due to a light winter that required little winter road maintenance.

The borough is working on a new budget that will be approved by Dec. 16, she said. The annual winter road maintenance budget is based on a 30-year annual snow average of 42 inches.

Whitfield said that 400 tons of salt was left over from last winter that can be used by the beginning of the year. Annually, about 800 to 1,000 tons of salt is used, Whitfield said.

Whitfield said the borough most likely would not take action Wednesday or Thursday for the flurry predictions. He added that the borough waits until there is about an inch of snow on the ground before his crew of about a dozen workers spreads salt and plows the roads, all of which takes about three hours.

The drive should be clear for fans traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for the Penn State-Ohio State football game on Saturday. Scattered showers and temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s, and lows in the mid 30s are expected throughout the region between central Pennsylvania and central Ohio on Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday, Columbus will see a high of 52 degrees and low of 37 degrees, reports show.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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