Snow, 4:30 p.m. update: Snow, winds picking up

Snow falls at Broad and Race streets as a family scurries through it on Thursday afternoon. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)

At 4 p.m. winds were gusting to 35 m.p.h. at Philadelphia International Airport, and snowfall was moving back into areas where it had shut off earlier.

But temperatures are at or slightly above freezing, an any freeze-up is unlikely until after dark. Accumulations ranged from almost nothing to several inches well to the north of the city, however, almost nothing was sticking to the sun-warmed paved surfaces. Here are the latest available totals.

Areas that had braced for the worst instead were treated to a postcard-perfect tree-whitening snow, with a fresh coat of whitewash on the graying piles of leftover snow.

In part because the snow got off to such a slow start, the accumulation estimates have bumped down since this morning. Officially, the National Weather Service is going to 6 to 12 in the immediate Philadelphia area.

In another winter when the populace was less jaded by mega-storms, that might seem like a hefty total. Even if the snowfall estimates fall short, this still looks to be a nasty night.

The weather service says winds could gust past 50 miles an hour, with sustained winds of 25 m.p.h., all through the night.

 The snow could continue well into the afternoon, according to Henry Margusity, a meteorologist at Accu-Weather Inc., who said it was premature to blow off the storm, despite its unimpressive daytime performance. "You still have a lot of storm to go," he said.

This is a nor'easter that is so peculiar it should be called a "nor'wester." Nor'easters are coastal storms that take their names from the powerful winds from the northeast that they generate.

Winds circulate counterclockwise around storm centers, so areas to the northwest of the center -- usually where the snow falls -- experience northeast winds.

 This time, however, the punishing winds are coming from northwest and north. That's because this storm, which is well off the coast, is forecast to move north, bump into Long Island, and hang around for a couple days.

The Philadelphia region will be getting backlash winds from the west as the storm continues to throw back snow. The snow is expected to intensify from north to south during the night, the opposite of the usual pattern.

It looks like the worst of the snow and winds will hit during the overnight hours, said Joe Miketta, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Mount Holly.

The fact that the winds are arriving before the heavy snow may be a break for power companies and their customers. With the winds howling, it will be tougher for snow to stick on tree branches, making them less likely to fall and crash into power lines.

As for tomorrow, the strong winds will persist through the morning, and if the forecast works out, the region will wake up to several inches of wind-blown snow and a long trip to work -- but maybe not school.