THE FIZZLE OF '13
Storm of season forecast turns out to be all wet. Schools cancel, but warm air keeps most snow away. SOCKED BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
In forecasting 3 to 6 inches of snow for Lancaster County on Wednesday, Millersville University meteorologist Eric Horst said, "The table is set and the players are on the field."
In this county, the expected guest was largely a no-show and it wasn't much of a game.
"Unfortunately, it was just a few degrees too warm here in Lancaster. By the time the snow got here around daybreak, the atmosphere was too warm," Horst said Wednesday.
With late winter storms, he explained, falling snow helps cool the atmosphere.
Blame the sun, though it wasn't visible, for the lack of cooling action.
"The strength of the sun coming through the clouds is the same as a cloudy day in early October," he said.
So the county mostly had rain throughout the day.
Horst acknowledged some people were upset the forecast didn't pan out.
"They've been starving for a storm. They feel they've been promised something and then they vent to the meteorologist," he said.
"Yeah, you have to have a thick skin in this business. That's something I teach our students."
Taking the wider view, he said, "The storm we've been talking about since last Friday, it formed and it verified beautifully in terms of just about everywhere but in Lancaster. So our viewers of our forecast, and we have lots of them around the mid-Atlantic region, they think we did a great job. Of course the people in Lancaster think we did a terrible job."
Millersville gave one of the more conservative forecasts, calling for 3 to 6 inches, with less in the northern parts of the county, he said.
Higher elevations in the county's southern end did get an inch or two, he said.
The snowy forecast prompted all of the county's public school districts, except Octorara, to close.
Superintendents said they've got to act on information at hand, with student safety a priority.
"Anytime I'm going to make a weather call, I'm going to be an idiot one way or another," Hempfield superintendent Brenda Becker said. She said she's either deemed an idiot for closing based on forecasts that don't pan out or for opening when the weather is dicey.
"If I'm going to err on a side, and it's an iffy situation, I'm going to err on the side of safety," she said.
Becker said she was still getting indications early in the morning that the storm would play out as predicted.
"Generally, I have to make a call by 5 a.m. By then, I have bus drivers coming in. And I'm cognizant of parents who need to make day-care arrangements," she said.
"A number of us, as superintendents, were looking at this from about 4:15 a.m. on," she said. She checked with her bus garage staff, who said it was snowing in York and turning to snow in areas in Lancaster County.
"Everything we were being told was, we're still going to have a storm," she said.
Solanco superintendent Martin Hudacs likened the process to turning a cruise ship. It takes a long time and you have to anticipate what's going to happen.
He also conferred with other superintendents, starting about 3:30 a.m.
"The radar was still indicating this huge storm was still coming," he said.
If the storm unfolded as predicted, he said, buses would be in the middle of picking up sixth- through 12th-graders and would still have to get elementary school students.
Hudacs said he also has to consider his sprawling district's geography, which stretches from open farmland in Bart Township to hilly areas near the Susquehanna River, with a lot of back roads.
"You make the call the best that you can," he said. "I would have more regrets if I said, 'Let's come in,' and then the roads get slick … it's the kids' safety first."
Marcie Brody, Manheim Township School District's spokeswoman, said the district, even around 5 a.m., was still expecting snow to arrive.
"You need to make the decision early enough, before high-school kids get on the road," she said.
Parents generally understand when calls are made to close schools, but the reason for doing so never materializes, she said.
"Most of the time parents are thankful we're being cautious," she said.
York Waste decided not to collect any trash in its territories, including Lancaster. Today and Friday, collections will be delayed one day.
Horst said another inch of snow was possible for higher elevations in the county Wednesday night. And tonight might see enough snow to whiten the ground in places.
Temperatures will be in the lower 50s for the weekend.
"It's going to be the typical March roller coaster ride: Couple warm days, couple cool days ... but we're soon going to be closing the book on this winter," he said.