Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Valentine's Day: Not-so-warm memories

Nightmare on I-78; a storm that wasn't, and other matters not of the heart.

Valentine's Day: Not-so-warm memories


It was on this date five years ago that one of the most-incredible winter storms in the period of observation attacked the region with a siege of sleet.

Just under 3 inches of sleet -- and that's an unbelievable amount of accumulated ice -- fell on the 13th, with an additional 1.4 inches of white stuff of some stripe on the 14th.

Meteorologically, it may have been the heftiest accumulation of sleet on record. Sleet suggests an atmosphere in transition and that a warm layer in the atmosphere is entering or leaving.

It usually indicates that rain is changing to snow or vice versa; rarely is it a main event.

But this particular storm was nonstop ice balls. We wrote a column about it, which also mentions the nightmare on Interstate 78.

The storm also forced the closings of 80 and 81, but evidently the problems on 78 were the most severe.

Based on observations from the nearest official measuring station, Allentown, about 7 inches of snow and ice fell, and about 4 inches of that was in the form of sleet.

To put that in perspective, it takes a forecast of only 0.5 inches of sleet to trigger a winter storm warning -- thus the 4 inches would be 8 times better than the minimum criteria.

Rendell eventually would activate the National Guard.

We also mention a few other notable Valentine's Day weather events.

Way back in 1899, 11.2 inches of snow fell on the 13th and 14th, and warm hearts did nothing to mitigate the cold.

On the 13th, the high was just 10 Fahrenheit, a record low maximum for the date. It didn't get past 23 on the 14th. We had trouble finding folks who remembered.

In 1978, a total of 4.6 inches of snow fell on the 13th and 14th, but it was hardly noticed because that winter was so snowy -- the snowiest until the winter of 2009-10.

And we'll note that this is the 20th anniversary of one of the region's more-memorable Valentine weather episodes.

In 1992, year, Valentine's Day fell on a Friday, and since many schools planned to close for a four-day weekend, they scheduled their Valentine's parties for Thursday. But the weather, or at least the forecasts, intervened.

They were scary enough to set off supermarket runs for life-sustaining supplies and Valentine flowers. Our story reported that one supermarket called in three extra cashiers and that lines were five-deep.

On the morning of the 13th, snow did fall in Washington, and 257 schools throughout the region decided to close, according to our old friend Mark Helms, at the time a honcho at KYW Newsradio.

The extra day off was icing on the heart-shaped cupcakes for students who already were to have a four-day weekend.

Never mind that it didn't snow here.

Well, it did snow, but only a tenth of an inch.


Inquirer Weather Columnist
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About this blog

Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

Reach Tony at twood@phillynews.com.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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