Winter storm could hamper Thanksgiving travel plans

Planning to travel over the fields and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving?

Better leave now.

The first major storm of the year is expected to bear down on central Pennsylvania beginning Tuesday, bringing with it snow, sleet, ice and more frigid temperatures.

Centre County could see two days of blustery winter weather, with a total accumulation of up to 3 inches on Wednesday.

The storm is part of a larger system that’s been moving through the lower Plains, bringing with it heavy rain and snow. As it races into the Northeast, roads can quickly become slippery and flight delays are possible.

“We’re not anticipating a big accumulation of snow on the front end of this, but certainly more on the back end,” said Tom Kines, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in Patton Township. “But if you’re going to be out, be safe.”

Kines said snow will begin early Tuesday, change over to sleet and then rain into the night. While no significant accumulation is expected Tuesday, Wednesday is a different story.

“The amount of snow depends on how quickly it changes over from rain,” Kines said. “We could see anywhere from 1 to 3 inches. But the important thing is that if you’re going to be out traveling Wednesday, keep it in mind.”

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel days of the year, according to AAA. Some 43.4 million people nationwide are expected to be on the move for the holiday — and 90 percent of those will be driving — making the storm’s timing far from perfect.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike alone is estimated to see 2.6 million drivers from Wednesday to Sunday, according to a turnpike advisory.

Thousands of people are expected to take to the air for their travel plans this week, and flights throughout the eastern U.S. could see delays, according to AccuWeather.

Drivers planning on plying the roadways should take caution for slippery conditions, especially when the temperatures plummet below freezing.

Anyone traveling over the next few days should be prepared.

“Those traveling out west, they have the worst of it,” Kines said. “Those traveling east, they’re better off. It will be milder heading east, but probably more rain. But roads running through higher terrain, like Pittsburgh and Erie, those places will be more affected.”

Kines noted that those heading through Altoona should expect similar conditions to Centre County. Those heading through Harrisburg should expect rain, although the roads could be slippery.

Part of the danger comes from freezing roads.

Temperatures are expected to reach 36 degrees both Tuesday and Wednesday with overnight lows of 32 on Tuesday and only 21 on Wednesday. On Thanksgiving Day, the sun should make a return, but temperatures will continue to be cold, reaching a high of only 28 degrees and bottoming out at 16 overnight.

“It’s going to be one of those days that if you’re on the inside looking out, it’s not looking too bad,” Kines said. “But outside, it will be very cold.”

Back at home, Centre County Emergency Management Services is standing by but not expecting many problems, Director Randy Rockey said.

“We’re just monitoring it right now,” Rockey said. “In our area, we’re looking at mixed precipitation ... It’s what people should expect in central Pennsylvania this time of year.”

Rockey added that he’s been in talks with local agencies, including the chapter of the Red Cross, which also is taking a watchful eye.

“Now is the time people should check their preparations for the entire winter,” he said. “Do they have flashlights? Do they have first-aid kits? Do they have alternate places to go if the power goes out for any long duration? Don’t wait for the last minute.”

Tuesday’s weather marks the first major storm of the season, but Kines said the first part of winter — December into January — isn’t expected to be snowy. January into February will be.

“We’re expecting more rain events in the first half, then a trend toward more snowy weather,” he said. “The season’s snowfall should be in the normal range, which is 40 to 45 inches.”