Driving snow and gusty winds buffeted southwest Pennsylvania Friday as many residents left work and school to begin holiday vacations during the first official hours of winter.
Snowfall had reached just 0.7 inch at the National Weather Service's offices at the Pittsburgh International Airport by 9 p.m., with a total of 1 inch or so expected by this morning. Areas such as the Laurel Highlands and other upper elevations, however, had received 2 inches as of Friday evening and areas such as Washington, Pa., received 3 inches, according to the service.
But with snowfall tapering off overnight and higher temperatures expected Sunday and early next week, hopes for a white Christmas depend largely on holding on to what you've got, said meteorologist Brad Rehak.
"With a little bit of sunshine and temperatures in the upper 30s, if you get 3 or 4 inches, there could be some snow left, but if you get an inch or two it will probably be gone," Mr. Rehak said.
Today's high is expected to reach 33 degrees, but highs on Sunday and Monday are expected to hit 39 degrees, and the high on Tuesday, Christmas Day, is expected to reach 37 degrees, according to the weather service. There is a 20 percent chance of rain or snow Monday, a 50 percent chance Monday night and a 40 percent chance on Christmas.
In a typical December, Mr. Rehak said, the region would have received about 5 inches of snow by this point in the month. Friday's snowfall was the first accumulation of the month.
Roadways covered with quickly melting snow helped tangle traffic around Pittsburgh as early as midday in some places Friday, as many people left work and school early to get a jump on holiday travel. But the region largely escaped the complications brought on by more serious winter weather in the Midwest, where a blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow on many areas, canceling flights, stranding travelers and causing several accidents.
The storm, part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week, was blamed for deaths in at least five states. Utility crews worked to restore power in a half-dozen states, but thousands remained without service after heavy snow and strong winds pulled down lines. Some schools canceled classes for a second day.
Meteorologists said the system was developing a second front with a mix of snow and rain in the New York City area and New Jersey. It was expected to "spin its way northward through New England and into Canada" into the weekend, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Adam said.
In Gaylord, Mich., where Mr. Adam is based, people were digging out of what he called "concrete snow" -- precipitation that was heavy, wet and hard to handle. Mr. Adam said he had to use his snowblower for the second time in 12 hours and take a chain saw to a downed tree on his street before he could get out for work Friday morning. The area recorded 19.6 inches of snow.
"It's a big wallop of winter weather," Mr. Adam said.
Aviation officials and travelers welcomed sunny skies in Chicago, where more than 500 flights were canceled at the two airports the day before. Only 50 flights were canceled Friday, and a similar number faced delays of up to two hours.
Robin Mamlet of Berwyn, Pa., spent Friday morning at Philadelphia International Airport waiting for her daughter to arrive home for the holidays from college in Chicago. Her daughter's original flight was canceled Thursday due to the blizzard and her rebooked flight at 6 a.m. left an hour late.
Still, the plane landed in Philadelphia in plenty of time for the next step in their holiday plans: a midday flight to Puerto Rico for a five-day vacation.
"So we're in very good shape -- very lucky," Ms. Mamlet said.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed. First Published December 22, 2012 5:00 AM