Western Pennsylvania says goodbye winter, hello spring!

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, March 20, 2010

Today's the day: The relentlessly snowy winter officially ends at 1:32 p.m. EDT with the vernal equinox, when the sun is directly above the equator.

"I love it," said Jacob McFeely, 4, of Brookline as he walked up a slide Friday in Carrick's Phillips Park. "I can't wait to plant flowers."

Jacob will miss one thing about winter: "You can eat snow."

But as spring starts, not everyone is thrilled.

"I hate it when spring comes," said Bobby Fisher, 11, an allergy sufferer from Lower Burrell whose sneezing fits started last week, earlier than usual.

Although the Pittsburgh region in February suffered through the snowiest month since 1884, with 48.7 inches, springlike conditions arrived more than two weeks ago. No snow has fallen for 16 days, and temperatures cracked 50 degrees on 10 of the past 12 days, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. Through Thursday, March brought more clear days -- six -- than the three previous months, with four combined.

"I think we're pretty much done with snow," said AccuWeather meteorologist Andrew Ulrich, although the region could get freezing temperatures.

AccuWeather predicts lows at or below freezing several days next week, dipping as low as 23 degrees next Saturday. After highs in the upper 60s today and Sunday, temperatures will peak in the 50s during the coming week and then fall to 43 degrees next weekend.

"I think the theme going through spring is, you're going to have warm spells and cold spells and about average precipitation," Ulrich said. "It looks like a pretty normal spring."

If no more snow falls, Western Pennsylvania would break a streak of receiving at least 0.1 inch of snow every March since 1927. Only a trace amount of snow fell this month. The average March total over the past 30 years was 7.9 inches, National Weather Service records show.

Despite weathering criticism from people who couldn't negotiate unplowed streets for days after February's snowfall, Pittsburgh Public Works Director Robert Kaczorowski said another 5.2 inches of snow would make the 2009-10 winter season the snowiest on record.

"Who wants to be No. 2?" he joked.

With a combined 76.9 inches of snowfall, this winter was the third-snowiest. A record 82 inches fell in 1950-51, and 78.5 inches fell in 1913-14.

Public and private crews, as well as home and business owners across the region, are picking up the pieces from the harsh winter -- collecting downed trees, branches, litter and other debris the snow buried.

"It's spring cleaning for everyone," Kaczorowski said.

Doctors say allergy sufferers began visiting with complaints of stuffy noses and heads about two weeks ago because of tree pollen. Dr. Richard L. Green, the chief of allergy at UPMC Shadyside, who has private offices in Harmar and Downtown, estimates 20 percent to 30 percent of the population suffers from allergies.

"My patients don't complain about winter," Green said. "They hate to see it warming up."

Dr. Deborah Gentile, director of Allegheny General Hospital's division of allergy, asthma and immunology, said tree pollen counts hit moderate levels March 11 and rose every day since Tuesday. Counts are expected to climb to high levels today, she said.

"This may have caught some patients off guard because (trees started blooming) earlier than usual," Gentile said.

The Pittsburgh Pirates plan to get an early start this spring. The scheduled April 5 home opener will be the second-earliest in club history: the Pirates opened April 4 in 2000 and 2005 and had April 5 openers in 1999 and 2004.

With temperatures in the upper 60s on a sun-drenched Friday, some fans were getting excited about the upcoming season -- while trying to temper expectations for a team on a 17-season losing streak.

"It just feels like baseball season," said Josh Selkovits, 28, of Mt. Lebanon, while studying a game schedule posted outside PNC Park with his girlfriend, Courtney King, 26. "Every year I tell myself not to get too excited, but I can't help it."

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