Weather likely to be a challenge for Groundhog Day

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Both the National Weather Service and AccuWeather are prognosticating a very wintry Groundhog Day, just a few days before Punxsutawney Phil makes his own prediction.

Monday, the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh placed Jefferson and 11 other counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland under a winter storm warning, which began at 7 p.m. Monday night and runs through 10 a.m. Wednesday — just a few hours after Punxsy Phil should emerge from his stump to make his annual prognostication.

“It does not look good, but I think it’s one of those things, you just have to see what happens,” Inner Circle President Bill Deeley said Monday.

“Basically, this thing could be a double batch,” Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, said Monday. “We’re confident it will bring mostly snow, and that is tonight into tomorrow morning. Part II could be tomorrow night into Wednesday. That’s the one with the great concern with ice involved.”

The NWS is calling for a quarter- to a half-inch of ice and three to seven inches of snow. Light snow as expected to begin late Monday, followed by a possible mix of sleet and freezing rain into his afternoon and into Wednesday morning.

Sosnowski said sleet would be “a better scenario,” because it tends not to adhere to trees and power lines. Freezing rain, however, would not be advantageous for travelers coming to Punxsy.

“But if it’s a mix of both — sleet first, then freezing rain — it glues everything together, and it’s stuff you’ve got to rid of with a jackhammer.”

“The forecast is, it could be rainy, it could be sleety, it could be three to seven inches of snow,” Deeley said. “We’ll just wait and see. Whatever we get, we’ll take and complain about it and move on.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Groundhog Day has been jarred by adverse weather. According to the Groundhog Club’s Web site, the coldest event was in 1918, at 18 degrees below zero More recently, in 2004, the temperature was eight degrees.

Other years, there has been rain.

“We’ve done it one time in the rain,” Deeley said. “There were buckets of rain. It was like one of those deals. Everybody was just trying to stay high and dry.

“We might be running plows and snow blowers 15 minutes before the prognostication,” he said about this year.

Sosnowski said just a few degrees could make the different between snow, freezing rain and ice — or a combination of two elements.

Deeley said the weather will also affect the numbers in the crowd.

“I think it’s gonna be whatever the weather is, is what Groundhog Day turns out to be,” he said.