Winter opens with spring weather

Mild temperatures

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The vote is in: 2-to-1.

With the first day of winter beginning officially today, the two big commercial forecasters, AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, are predicting a possible white Christmas for the Pittsburgh region on Wednesday, while local National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks is not.

Whatever the case, Pittsburghers will have to endure some wild weather swings -- rain, warm temperatures, flood, wind and maybe even thunder through Sunday before cold returns.

A storm system coming out of the southern Plains -- dubbed "Gemini" by The Weather Channel for some reason -- is bumping warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico up into the entire East Coast and mid-Atlantic region.

"The heaviest rain will mostly bypass the area Sunday," said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, the State College-based weather service. While rainfall Saturday night through Sunday may be as much as an inch an hour, "it will be shortlived and drying out by Sunday afternoon."

As a precaution, the Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh is closing the Mon Wharf until further notice. Parking is available at the First Avenue Garage and Second Avenue Plaza.

While a flood advisory hadn't been issued as of Friday afternoon, the Ohio River is projected to crest at 21.1 feet Monday and not recede below 18 feet until Wednesday.

Temperatures will be back in the 30s Monday, but does that mean a blanket of white for Christmas day?

"Probably not," said Mr. Hendricks, noting that the weekend's warm air will probably melt most of the snowpack accumulated over the past few weeks, and through Christmas day it will be relatively dry.

Pittsburghers have had to endure a lot of cold and snow during the past six weeks. November's temperatures, which averaged 39.4 degrees for the month, were 3.5 degrees below normal, noted Mr. Hendricks, with a high of 71 degrees on Nov. 6 and a low of 15 on the 24th and 25th.

While the beginning of December began with a warmup that peaked at 61 degrees Dec. 5, temperatures went back down into the 20s and 30s for the next 13 days. By Thursday, though, the temperature peaked at 50, and it could get into the 70s on Sunday.

But for the next 30 days, it's business as usual, with temperatures averaging in the 30s and 40s, he added.

Let's look on the bright side: Perhaps the sun -- you remember, that round yellow ball in the sky that occasionally makes an appearance here -- will come out on Christmas.

"Let's not get carried away," said Mr. Hendricks. "We live in Pittsburgh, don't forget. You don't see much sun here this close to Lake Erie."

Which is exactly why Mr. Mussoline thinks we have a decent chance of a white Christmas, given that the lake's moisture, which produces snow as cold air passes over it (26.3 inches of snow has fallen on Erie this fall since Thursday) will produce flurries on Tuesday and maybe enough for some accumulation.

So if you really want sure-fire holiday snowfall -- the kind that poet Ted Hughes once described as "muffled armies" that "move in all night/And we wake and every road is blockaded/Every hill taken and every farm occupied" -- go to Erie.

Otherwise, enjoy today's spring weather, on this first day of winter.


Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or Twitter: @MackenziePG.

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