Fourth major winter storm begins assault on region

5th St. near Raymond in North Philadelphia reflect off of the wet road surface on Thursday morning February 25, 2010. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

The fourth major winter storm of the season pushed into our snow-weary region today, bringing with it a now familiar round of closures, cancellations and fears about power outages.

But with temperatures above freezing, the snow was not sticking and seemed more like white rain.

Before noon, the National Weather Service lowered projected accumulations of snow in the area to 6 to 12 inches, most of it expected to occur overnight.

Even before the snow started falling, Philadelphia public and Archdiocesan schools closed for the day.

But apparently not everyone got the message and police were trying to locate the mother of at least one child who was dropped off at a school in Southwest Philadelphia.

Outside the city, some schools also closed but many others were opting for early dismissal, sending students home about the time the storm is expected to intensify.

The U.S. District Court closed today in an apparent accommodation for jurors, who are drawn from throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals remained open.

The storm arrived overnight as rain, changed to a mix of snow and rain before dawn and changed to all snow after daylight.

Philadelphia declared a snow emergency starting at 9 a.m., requiring car owners to move parked vehicles from snow emergency routes by then or risk having them towed.

With temperatures hovering above freezing, roadways were wet for the morning rush hour and were expected to remain wet for the evening.

But conditions could worsen overnight as temperatures fall and the snow accumulates.

The weather was being blamed for a number of motor vehicle accidents, including one in Deptford where a car hit a utility pole, knocking out power for 30 minutes to nearly 1,200 customers, including Gloucester County College.

PennDOT, which sent reinforcements to Southeastern Pennsylvania for the last storm, is instead sending support to the northeastern part of the state, where considerably more snow is expected.

The storm is expected to move out tomorrow.

Besides the snow, projected gusts of 40 to 50 m.p.h. threaten to topple trees and power lines, a matter of concern to utility and emergency management officials

Fear about the winds, prompted the Delaware River Port Authority to ban empty trailer trucks and RVs from the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross and Commodore Barry Bridges starting at 7 p.m.

The winds also were more of a concern than the snow at the Shore.

Besides causing power outages, emergency management officials are worried that the winds could churn up the bays, streams, and creeks in the region that have been already swollen by previous snow and rain storms.

In Cape May County, road crews were dispatched this morning to remove any remaining piles of snow and ice in low lying drainage areas that could create dangerous conditions with the latest onslaught of weather, according to Lenora Boninfante, a spokeswoman for the county.

They had also begun sanding and salting the half dozen bridges that link coastal towns like Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Avalon because their roadways over the steel drawbridge structures are often among slippery under extreme storm conditions, officials said.

At Philadelphia International Airport, all Southwest Airlines flights inbound and outbound were canceled for the day.

At 11 a.m., the runways were in "fine condition," according to spokeswoman Victoria Lupica, but there was a 15 to 20 percent reduction in normal operations due to the weather. Additional cancellations may be announced later today as the storm gathers strength.

"Mostly we're fine right now," Lupica said.

All departing flights were taking off on time, she said. Some inbound flights were delayed an average of 80 minutes.

Inquirer staff writers Sam Wood, James Osborne and Jacqueline L. Urgo contributed to this article.