Lehigh Valley forecast is for 9-15 inches of snow, but actual count may bedevil experts again


If National Weather Service snow maps are any indication, the storm expected to slam the region today will bring a wide range of snow totals within the space of just a few miles.

Snow flurries appeared throughout most of the Lehigh Valley by 3:30 a.m., but the accumulation had not yet begun.

And just like the other nor’easters that have besieged our area lately — four now in just three weeks — this storm is expected to have a pretty steep gradient that could leave one town bare and a neighboring town buried.

The Lehigh Valley is under a winter storm warning through 11 p.m., with the anticipation that this latest storm will bring difficult travel conditions and all the other headaches that nor’easters bring. The worst travel conditions are likely to occur this Wednesday afternoon and evening, according to the weather service.

Snowfall rates of of 1 to 3 inches per hour are expected at times Wednesday afternoon and early evening when visibility should be reduced to less than half a mile. Wind gusts of up to 30 mph are possible at times.

The updated winter storm warning now says snow accumulations of 8 to 12 inches are expected for most of the Lehigh Valley, with up to 15 inches in some localized areas.

The National Weather Service says that, after the snowstorm start about 4 this morning, the Lehigh Valley should see about an inch of accumulation before dawn, 5 to 9 inches in the daytime, and another 3 to 5 inches tonight.

The timing is uncanny, with the arrival of the storm on the first true day of spring and the anniversary of the March 20, 1958, nor’easter. That one smashed into the mid-Atlantic and dumped 20 inches of snow on Allentown, but in an amazing contrast of snow totals, an incredible 50 inches fell on Morgantown, Pa.

According to the latest forecasts, this one won’t be quite that bad. Regardless, constantly changing computer models have created another nightmare scenario for forecasters.

Ed Vallee, a regional meteorologist who provides private forecasting services as the owner of Vallee Weather Consulting, said a number of variables will change the way the storm behaves in the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos.

“There’s a lot of dry air north of Interstate 80 that we’re going to have to scourge out before this storm really manages to do anything,” he explained. “But in the Lehigh Valley, morning temperatures are going to be below freezing and it will start snowing before sunrise. That will help keep surface temperatures low and you’re going to see accumulation on roadways most of the day.”

Vallee thinks projected snowfall totals of 2 to 5 inches are a safe bet in the Poconos, and said he sees the Lehigh Valley in the 5-to-10 inch range with higher amounts possible thanks to the setup of heavier bands of precipitation.

“You’re really similar to the last storm where areas southeast of Allentown saw the heaviest amounts as the storm pulled away. Any small shift in the track is going to have a big influence there,” he added.

And as far as an official start to the spring season being penciled in on the calendar? Vallee said a sustained warmup still isn’t in the forecast.

“Looking out into an extended range and for any type of sustained warming pattern, we’re going to have to wait until the tail end of the month or even into the beginning of April.”

Happy first day of spring, indeed.

Here’s the contrast in snowfall totals from the 1958 storm:

  • Allentown, Pennsylvania — 20.3 inches
  • Morgantown, Pennsylvania – 50 inches
  • Reading, Pennsylvania — 16 inches
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — 11.4 inches
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania — 13 inches
  • Wilmington, Delaware – 19 inches
  • Trenton, New Jersey – 17.8 inches

Here is the extended Lehigh Valley forecast from the National Weather Service:

Today

Snow. The snow could be heavy at times. High near 32. Northeast wind 13 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100 percent. New snow accumulation of 6 to 10 inches possible.

Wednesday Night

Snow. Low around 28. North wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Thursday

Partly sunny, with a high near 43. Northwest wind 13 to 15 mph.

Thursday Night

Mostly cloudy, with a low around 27.

Friday

Scattered showers after 1pm. Mostly sunny, with a high near 43. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Friday Night

Scattered showers before 9pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 26. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Saturday

Sunny, with a high near 43.

Saturday Night

Partly cloudy, with a low around 28.

Sunday

Mostly sunny, with a high near 45.

Sunday Night

Partly cloudy, with a low around 28.

Monday

Sunny, with a high near 48.

ssigafoos@mcall.com

Twitter @ssigafoos

610-820-6612



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