By Konstantine Fekos
After a series of snow storms that put Crawford County on ice the past few weeks, residents may get a chance to defrost this weekend as local and state meteorologists anticipate an early thaw for the winter season.
While brief warm interludes aren’t uncommon for this time of year, minor heat waves can be a cause not just for celebration, but also for concern in regard to possible road deterioration and flooding.
“We usually get one or two thaws in January of February,” said meteorologist Rob Wilson of Erie’s WICU-TV Channel 12, whose seven-day forecasts are featured daily in the Tribune on page A2. “It’s not that big a deal, plus it’s supposed to start snowing again by Monday, anyway.”
Warmer weather saves the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) a few days of salting and overtime hours in the winter months, but can also cause further roadway damage before repair teams can utilize the temperature spike, according to Bob Miller, assistant county manager.
“A quick thaw can pop a lot of potholes,” he said. “But a warm spell eliminates the need for salt and anti-skid. There are big savings when we’re not in snow-removal mode.”
While Crawford County’s PennDOT headquarters reported no extraordinary activity this winter, Miller noted that the winter season is still young.
“It’s been a more typical winter compared to last year’s mild winter,” he said. “We’ve used about 3,000 tons of salt so far. We average about 16,000 tons a year.”
PennDOT used only about half of its yearly average last winter season. Moneys saved from warm spells went to paving projects, Miller said.
Crawford County’s Office of Emergency Services is looking more toward the creeks and streams than the roadways, as National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts show the potential for minor flooding, according to Allen Clark, director of the Emergency Management Agency.
With rainfall anticipated sometime Thursday, French Creek is most likely to experience possible flooding, with the highest levels to show by Monday, after the weekend thaw is added to the equation.
“The (NWS) says it will be nice and warm the next couple of days,” said Clark. “We expect this will melt and evaporate some of the snow before the (second round of) rains hit.” The most prominent concern lies in the potential rainfall predicted for Sunday, which will open French Creek to a minor flood threat, according to the NWS.
“Right now we’re not thinking of issuing a flood watch, but we are monitoring water levels,” Clark said. “Everyone should be aware of their surroundings and take steps to elevate appliances as well as other precautions as recommended by the American Red Cross.”
The NWS predicts French Creek levels to rise to approximately 6.4 feet by 2 p.m. Sunday, well below action stages, said Clark, who nonetheless advised local residents be aware of how susceptible Crawford County is to flooding with so many communities built beside tributaries and streams. Flood stage is 14 feet at Meadville’s Mercer Street.
Early thaws in northwest Pennsylvania are attributed mainly to pressure systems and direction of wind flow, according to Kristen Yeager, meteorologist for NWS in Cleveland.
“The reason is because we have high pressure slightly to our east, and when we’re on the west side of high pressure, we get a southern flow of winds and clear daytime skies, which both work to bring in the warmer temperatures,” she said.
Much of the nation has experienced higher-than-average temperatures, with the exception of some winter storms the past couple of weeks, according to AccuWeather reports from central Pennsylvania.
Subsequent reports, however, show signs of incoming frigid air from the North Pole expected to descend on North America during January’s second half, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologits, who advise residents to hang on to their shovels and snow blowers.
“As the waves of cold air spread to the south and east, some energy may be released in the form of a series of storms riding the cold air,” said Jack Boston, expert senior meteorologist.
Storm patterns are expected to travel across the Great Lakes, causing lower temperatures in Pennsylvania and surrounding eastern states.
“Initially, the cold may seem to be run-of-the-mill or even delayed, but once the cold air engine starts, it may run for quite a while with progressively colder and colder waves of air,” said Brett Anderson, expert senior meteorologists.