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Philadelphia weather forecast calls for possible snow, winter storm warning in suburbs

A potentially disruptive period of heavy snow, with wind gusts reaching 35 mph, was expected during Tuesday morning’s commute, forecasters said, with several inches possible north and west of the city and up to 4 inches in Philadelphia.

“It could snow really hard during rush hour,” Ray Martin, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said Monday evening after the agency increased snow totals several times.

“It could be a horrible rush hour. This could be the worst in a few years,” added Martin, who will leave work at 7 a.m. with a more than 20-mile commute home ahead of him.

On Monday, computer models predicted a meteorological fireball-like storm exploding off the mid-Atlantic coast in the morning, dumping snow in defiance of the recent heat wave. Temperatures reached 50 degrees for the fifth straight day in Philadelphia on Monday.

A winter storm warning was in effect for Chester and Montgomery counties for 3 to 6 inches of snow, and for Bucks County for 4 to 7 inches. A winter weather advisory was in effect for Philly and Delaware County for 1 to 4 inches, up to 2 inches in South Jersey and northern Delaware.

A Coastal Flood Warning was in effect until 10 a.m. Wednesday for areas along the Delaware River, and a Moderate Flood Warning was in effect for the Jersey Shore at the time of the 10 a.m. high tide Tuesday.

Concerning snow accumulations, the only certainty was that the totals would vary radically depending on temperatures and altitudes.

“This is an extremely difficult storm to forecast due to the rapidly changing conditions and expected temperatures,” the weather service said.

» READ MORE: Forecasters predicted winter could return in mid-February

In its late-day forecast discussion Monday, the weather service said the latest model track guidance suggested “a longer period of snow for areas closer to the I-95 corridor.” He also said the weight of the snow could bring down some power lines.

A mere 15-mile separation could make all the difference in who gets what, said Tom Kines, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc.

“We hesitated all day,” he said. “I guarantee we’ll be wrong somewhere about this.”

The forecasts

Rain developed Monday evening. It was expected to mix and turn into snow before or around dawn, with heavy precipitation in the morning.

AccuWeather forecast 1 to 3 inches of snow in the immediate Philadelphia area and 3 to 5 in the northern and western suburbs.

Paul Dorian, an Arcfield meteorologist based in Valley Forge, predicted between 3 and 6 across the region.

Temperatures during snowfall are expected to be between 33 and 35 degrees.

» READ MORE: Punxsutawney Phil, who promised an early spring, was unavailable for comment

Why all this uncertainty?

  1. Temperature: It’s warm and expected to stay above freezing during the snowfall in the immediate Philadelphia area. It will be cold enough for snow at 5,000 feet elevation, Kines said, and snow can stick when it exceeds 32 degrees at the surface. By covering the ground, it creates its own cooler surface. But Kines said whether it’s 33 or 34 when it snows could be crucial to how much accumulates in a given area.

  2. Ground: Elevated areas, such as Roxborough, Chestnut Hill, and hilly areas of neighboring Philadelphia, Pennsylvania counties, are expected to experience greater accumulations than areas to the south and east. Temperatures subtly decrease with altitude. Additionally, where the terrain is hilly, snow has a shorter distance to fall, therefore less time to melt.

  3. The storm itself: As of Monday, it was in the Tennessee Valley and is expected to migrate toward the ocean somewhere off the mid-Atlantic coast and intensify rapidly. As it exploded, the center’s powerful north-west winds were caused to pull in colder air, leading to the change. It’s unclear where the storm would mature and how much it would intensify, and meteorologists say all of that makes that prediction difficult.

“It’s safe,” said Alex Staarman, a meteorologist with the weather service office in Mount Holly.

The precipitation was expected to stop by early afternoon.

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