Even Alaska is warmer than Southwestern Pa.

The new norm: cold, wind chill warnings, power outages

January 27, 2014
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Single-digit temperatures and wind chill near minus-15 had people who were outdoors bundled up like this man, who only had a tiny gap between his hat and scarf to see where he was going Friday in Washington. Today’s forecast predicts a high of 8 degrees. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Arms loaded and bundled up, a pedestrian navigates North Main Street in Washington with temperatures in the low teens and a wind chill below zero Thursday. Supplies are crucial as bone-chilling temperatures return to the area today. Order a Print
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Margi Shrum / For the Observer-Reporter
A view of the ice on the Monongahela River Monday Order a Print

Baby, it’s cold outside. And while that may come as no surprise to those who just grabbed the newspaper from the front porch, the great outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania feel more like the Arctic tundra, especially compared with Monday’s balmy high of 16 degrees.

“We’ve gone downhill since then,” said John Darnley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Darnley predicted wind-chill values could dip as low as 29 degrees below zero Tuesday morning, although winds won’t be as strong as yesterday’s gusts. A warning of “dangerously low” wind-chill values remains in effect until 1 p.m. today.

With a predicted high of about 8 degrees, today’s temperature is roughly the same as the temperature in Montreal, Quebec, and Moscow, Russia. And in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, it will be about 6 degrees warmer than in Washington.

Darnley said Pittsburgh’s record low for Jan. 28 occurred in 1977, when the temperature dipped to 10 degrees below zero. However, anyone in their twenties or older likely will remember the record of 22 degrees below, set Jan. 19, 1994.

No snow is predicted this week aside from some possible flurries, but the amount of snowfall this winter already is above average.

As of Monday, the region received 42.3 inches of snow this winter; 21.8 inches is the average by this time of year, Darnley said.

“We’re almost doubled what we had last year,” Darnley said.

Those who live beside flat fields may have spotted doughnut-shaped snow formations resting atop the vast stretch of white. “Snow rollers,” an uncommon phenomenon in which snowballs form naturally, are created when a number of weather conditions come together in perfect harmony.

“It’s a combination of the temperature, the terrain, the type of snow and the wind,” Darnley said. “Everything has to be just right for it. You have to have an open field and persistent wind, and the snow has to be of the right moisture … and it allows them to develop when everything comes together.”

Although snow stopped falling, frigid temperatures caused several area school districts to close or delay today. Trinity Area School District officials announced before noon Monday that classes and all activities would be canceled today. Other area schools began to issue calls for closures and delays later in the afternoon. North Strabane Township residents will not have their trash collected today because of the cold; pickup has been pushed back to Wednesday.

Heavy winds also swept through Washington and Greene counties Monday, wiping out power for nearly 2,000 customers in the Pittsburgh region. Greensburg-based West Penn Power Co. reported outages lasting from about 5 to 7 a.m. As of 11 a.m. Monday, power was restored in both counties, except for one customer in East Finley Township.

West Penn spokeswoman Diane Holder said the company believes windy conditions were to blame.

“(Outages) happened shortly after the front was passing through, so it could have been the wind,” Holder said. “We investigated the line, we patrolled it and didn’t find any problems, and we were able to turn (power) back on. It came back on and stayed on.”

Holder said the company will continue to monitor weather conditions.

“It’s constant activity for us, always reviewing the weather activity, whether it’s winter or summer,” she said.

Tom Kines, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said temperatures will begin to rise Wednesday, and temperatures will be moderate Thursday. The predicted high for Friday is 37 degrees.

“I suspect once Friday rolls around, I think the lines at the car wash are going to be a mile long,” Kines said. “Hang in there – it is going to get better the second half of the week.”

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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