‘Frankenstorm’ a reality for Centre County

It’s being billed as the worst storm to hit the Northeast in a century because of its devastating potential. It’s being called “Frankenstorm” because it’s targeted to affect the entire region during Halloween week.

That, and it’s a monster.

If the latest forecast models hold true, Centre County residents can expect extremely high winds, heavy rain, flooding and substantial snowfall in higher elevations. And as a slow-moving storm, the area could see heavy weather beginning Sunday and not ending until Thursday night.

“The only way we get out of it is if Hurricane Sandy makes landfall north of New York City,” said WJAC-TV meteorologist Tony Martin in Johnstown. “Then effects are pretty well diminished here.”

That’s not likely, according to projection models Friday evening. According to meteorologist Evan Myers in State College, Hurricane Sandy is projected to make landfall in the Delaware Bay area.

“Basically from about New York City to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay is just about where every path (projection) is headed, and that’s why it looks like in the middle of that path, right into the Delaware Bay area, is right where this storm seems to be headed,” Myers said.

The Eastern Seaboard from northern Virginia into southern New England and as far west as Ohio is expected to see the combination of three strong fronts: a cold front sweeping east, Hurricane Sandy moving north, and an icy low-pressure system pushing downward from Canada. Sandy, an intense high-pressure system, will be drawn into the low-pressure system moving west.

“Once it gets captured, it’s going to move extremely slow,” Martin said. “There’s a blocking pattern in the northern Atlantic. With the pattern blocked up, there’s nowhere to for it to go for a while.

“We’ll feel the effects as early as late Sunday night and as late as Thursday night,” he added.

Sandy, a Category 2 storm with winds reaching 105 mph, was responsible for at least 38 deaths as it pummeled the Bahamas. The most recent National Hurricane Center model shows the hurricane tracking up the coast through Delaware and southwest of Philadelphia, then northwest into the Centre Region on Tuesday and Wednesday.

That storm could bring about 4 inches of rain to Centre County and high temperatures in the mid-40s by Monday and lows in the upper 30s by the beginning of the week. High winds — possibly 60 mph sustained winds — are a real threat and could cause significant power outages.

“The ground is pretty wet,” Martin said. “We had a fairly wet fall, and in many areas, there’s still a good bit of foliage on the trees. The trees catch the wind, catch the water, catch the snow. Strong wind just applies force and snaps them.”

With power out and temperatures just above freezing, residents possibly could be in for very cold days — and nights.

Rainfall will vary throughout the state, with more rain in the eastern portion and less in the west, Martin said.

“The Harrisburg, York, Lancaster areas, then running up (Interstate) 78 to Allentown could see double-digit rainfall. The Centre Region probably would be in the neighborhood of a half-foot of rain, worst-case scenario.”

So, just how bad will it be?

“This is worse than the ‘Perfect Storm,’ ” Martin said. “That storm on Halloween of ’91 didn’t affect us back here. Mostly, the coast here and just inland took the bore of the brunt. With Sandy — this may still be a hurricane up until landfall — there’s just so much heat and so much energy and combining with a lot of cold air, it’s just a heck of a clash.

“If it maintains itself with the projections at Category 1 all the way up to New Jersey, then making a sharp left, we’ll see video and we’ll see reports of windows blown out of high rises in New York City.”

In Centre County, utilities and government officials are keeping a weather eye on the storm.

First Energy, which serves a large swath of customers in Centre County, is warning its customers that depending on the severity of the storm and its impact on the electrical system, there is a real possibility of power outages lasting up to seven to 10 days. The utility is preparing by mobilizing support crews, both inside and outside of the company.

“Based on current predictions, we are making plans to position our crews to get ahead of the storm and minimize the impact on our customers,” said Chuck Jones, president of FirstEnergy Utilities.

The state Department of Transportation also is standing by in case of road impairments and is encouraging residents to be prepared — and to stay off roads in foul conditions.

“This is something that a lot of us haven’t dealt with before,” Martin said. A land-falling hurricane — it’s crazy.”