Snow - and cold - inaugurate new year

Driver Bill Lewis attaches a snowplow to a truck at the PennDot depot in North Phila.
Driver Bill Lewis attaches a snowplow to a truck at the PennDot depot in North Phila. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 04, 2014

The preseason consensus among some of the best minds in meteorology held that winter would begin gently around here. Nature evidently found that amusing.

After one of the snowiest Decembers on record in Philadelphia, forecasters say that on top of our latest snowfall, the region on Friday might experience its coldest day in seven years.

The temperature was expected to hold in the teens, which would mark the first time it had failed to hit 20 in Philadelphia since Feb. 5, 2007.

"It's probably going to be a while before the temperature reaches 30 again," said Kerry Schwindenhammer, meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pa.

Temperatures will be in the 20s when the Eagles host the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night in the NFL playoffs, but at least it won't be snowing.

And next Tuesday, it might not even make it to the teens.

Numerous area districts, including Philadelphia's, announced Thursday night that schools would be closed Friday.

The world's most sophisticated weather computers and the forecasters who rely on them were expecting a half-foot or so of snow in the immediate Philadelphia area by the time it ended Friday morning, incited into drifts by howling wind gusts past 30 m.p.h.

On Thursday, the region's highway crews and emergency managers weren't about to argue with the mega-computers.

On a foreboding day with a slate-gray sky, dropping temperatures, and an increasingly biting wind, snow emergency declarations were ubiquitous, and several preemptive school closings were announced. The National Weather Service's winter storm warning was to remain in effect until 3 p.m. Friday.

Gov. Christie declared an emergency for the entire state and authorized the closing of state offices on Friday for all nonessential workers. All state courthouses are also closed Friday.

James Simpson, the New Jersey Department of Transportation commissioner, issued a public plea for Garden State residents to keep off the roads.

"Get where you need to be and stay home if you can," advised Steve Schapiro, spokesman for the department. Schapiro warned that Friday's frigid conditions could present further problems for motorists.

"With the low temperatures, the materials we put down are less effective. So look out for icy roads," Schapiro said.

The Garden State was ready to deploy an armada of 3,200 trucks with plows and spreaders.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation instituted a full call-out, said spokesman Eugene Blaum, and the Philadelphia Streets Department already had brined city roadways.

With the typical peak snow period still a few weeks away, the salt domes in both states already have been popular destinations.

At the Whole Foods in Wynnewood, both the parking lot and the store were jammed at 5:30 p.m. with frantic customers, and workers from the bakery and other departments were called on to man the cash registers.

"It's on," one harried worker said to another as the snow began to fall. "It's on."

For New Jersey, this marked the 14th winter "event" that required a call-out, compared with 13 for the entire winter of 2011-12, said Schapiro.

Even before this storm, PennDot's Philadelphia region already had used 44,465 tons of salt, Blaum said. In the entire winter of 2011-12, the total was 37,497. Statewide, PennDot had spread 330,000 tons of salt as of Dec. 27; the five-year average is 188,000.

In Philadelphia, at 11.2 inches officially, December was the ninth-snowiest in 130 years of record-keeping.

The month featured the extraordinary sight of snow falling during the Eagles-Detroit Lions game on Dec. 8. Accumulating snow had not fallen during an Eagles home game in more than 50 years. More snow fell during the Army-Navy game the following Saturday.

The December "normal" snow total is 31/2 inches, and even before Thursday, Philadelphia had reached half its seasonal average of about 22 inches.

Some light snow or ice is possible Sunday before temperatures moderate and the precipitation changes to rain. Then another Arctic front is due to cross the region.

The National Weather Service forecast high for Tuesday: 12.


Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Maria Panaritis, Michaelle Bond, Ben Finley, Joseph A. Gambardello, Robert Moran, Tricia L. Nadolny, Chris Palmer, Jessica Parks, and Mari A. Schaefer.

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