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Winter off to a whiter start in Western Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
With snow flakes still flying, Julie Hansen cleans her Jackson Street sidewalk in Vandergrift on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. More snow is predicted for the first days of the new year.

Christmas wasn't very white this year and the winter solstice began with unseasonably warm temperatures, but Mother Nature has been quietly blanketing Western Pennsylvania with snow for the last two months.

The National Weather Service in Moon has recorded about 22 inches of snow since the start of the winter season in October.

That puts us nearly a foot above normal snowfall at this point in the season, according to meteorologist Matthew Kramar.

“It's been a lot of nickel-and-dime snow,” said Kramar. “It adds up.”

While barely any snow fell in October, more than two dozen days since have seen at least a trace. There were five storms in November and December in which two inches or more fell in a day — including a 3.3-inch snowfall on Nov. 12 that set a record for the most snow ever to fall in Pittsburgh on that date.

As of Dec. 26, the weather service noted it was the sixth-snowiest winter on record to that point in the season.

The service considers the winter season to run from October to April; during that period Western Pennsylvania typically picks up about 42 inches of snow.

However, just because the season started out snowy doesn't mean it will end that way. Kramar said the weather service doesn't do long-term forecasting, but the U.S. Climate Prediction Center gave the region “equal chances” of having above-, below- or near-average temperatures and precipitation in its one-month and three-month weather outlooks.

That basically means “there's no clear signal” what Mother Nature has in store for us, Kramar said.

The region also seemed on track for record-setting rainfall after an unusually wet June and July played havoc on public swimming pools and outdoor plans. About 6 inches of rain fell each month.

But Western Pennsylvania finished the year more than an inch below the normal precipitation of 38 inches per year.

The weather service's Pittsburgh-area rainfall records may not reflect the precipitation totals in the Alle-Kiski Valley, thanks in part to isolated thunderstorms throughout the summer.

For instance, the service only recorded about 0.7 inches of rain on Aug. 28 in Moon, but parts of Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties were drowned under 2 or more inches of rain in just a few hours that afternoon.

The resulting flash floods in some parts of the Alle-Kiski Valley were severe enough that a disaster was declared, qualifying some people for aid to repair their homes and businesses.

Pittsburgh also set a record on July 10 for the most rain to fall on that day: the 2.44 inches recorded in Moon was more than a half-inch above the record set in 1958.

The region also set several one-day records this year:

• On Jan. 30, the high temperature climbed to a record 68 degrees.

• On March 25, a daily record 4.7 inches of snow fell.

• On April 4, the low temperature dipped to a record 19 degrees.

• On May 24, the high temperature only reached 51 degrees, and the average temperature for the day was 44 degrees — both records. The following day, the low of 33 degrees set a record.

• On Sept. 11, the low temperature didn't get very low — 73 degrees was the warmest low temperature for that date by 1 degree.

• On Dec. 22, a day after the winter solstice, the high temperature reached 72 degrees, beating the previous record by 5 degrees.

That pre-Christmas warmth now is a distant memory.

“Certainly, in the near term, we're looking at another intrusion of arctic air,” Kramar said. “This week is looking to be exceptionally cold.”

The high temperature for New Year's Day is forecast to barely breach the freezing mark, and Friday may not climb out of the teens.

With that cold air flowing over the Great Lakes, Kramar said more snow is in the picture — as much as three to five inches today and Thursday.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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