Atypical winter forecast predicted for Western Pa.

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Laurie Luitgaarden knows that, each year, the season's first forecast for snow will mean a stream of customers coming to her hardware store in search of snow shovels and Ice Melt.

She didn't expect to see people coming to the Wexford Ace Hardware on Perry Highway in Pine to snap up those items in mid-October when temperatures were in the 70s.

“I think people want to be ready for the onslaught of winter,” said Luitgaarden, who owns the hardware store with her husband, John.

Though forecasters say Western Pennsylvania could get less snow and experience milder-than-normal temperatures this winter, they advise keeping the snow-removal gear handy.

“Overall, the tone of the winter will be a bit milder than we typically experience, but we could get a big storm like the one in 2010 that dumped more than 21 inches of snow on the Pittsburgh area,” said meteorologist Jack Boston of AccuWeather in State College. “However, if it happens, it probably won't be until late February or early March.”

Because of the recent federal government shutdown, the National Weather Service hasn't compiled its long-range seasonal outlook, according to meteorologist Brad Rehak.

“We can come up with some general trends based on computer models, but the accuracy doesn't start to increase until we start developing a seven- to 10-day forecast,” Rehak said. “We can say that the general trend looks like warmer temperatures in late November and early December, but there is no real indication of what the precipitation will be like during that period.”

Brett Anderson, AccuWeather's senior meteorologist, said the company makes its long-range predictions using computer models and weather trends during the previous 20 years. So-called “analogs,” or programs, look at factors such as water temperatures, jet stream patterns and comparisons of similar conditions during a 50-year period.

The predictors also consider weather conditions worldwide and the presence of sea surface temperature indicators such as El Nino and L a Nina.

Road crews ready

Steve Cowan, a spokesman for PennDOT District 11, which covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said the agency has about 70 percent of the road salt it anticipates using this year. It expects to be at full capacity by Nov. 15.

Last winter, PennDOT spread about 44,255 tons of salt on Allegheny County roadways, which is slightly less than average, Cowan said.

Tim Cook, maintenance manager for PennDOT District 12 in Westmoreland County, said it is at 95 percent capacity but has only enough space to store about 21,000 tons of salt.

“We're expecting to use about 34,000 tons of salt, which is about the same as last year,” Cook said. “We'll decide how much to reorder in January based on the amount we use earlier in the winter.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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