Big storm may miss Northumberland County, but it's not likely
SHAMOKIN - The center of a potentially massive storm is expected to reach Northumberland County midday Wednesday.
The good news? Apart from avoiding cutesy terms for the storm's arrival around the Halloween holiday, there is a chance it could miss us - emphasis on chance.
Hurricane Sandy was trodding north off the southeastern coast at 7 mph Friday evening and, as hurricanes are wont to do, could stay far enough off the East Coast and cause relatively little impact.
The bad news? That's not looking very likely.
Meteorologist Kevin Fitzgerald of the National Weather Service in State College used caution when telling The News-Item about Sandy's projected path. The storm is days away, he said, and the path could change.
But as time draws on, the "uncertainty diminishes progressively."
That's a daunting phrase for a storm many predict could rival the largest and most damaging to have occurred in modern times.
Uncertainty be damned. Emergency officials are stressing now is the time to act to prepare for the worst. Prepare emergency kits and supplies. Heed emergency warnings. Stay alert. (For more tips, see accompanying story.)
Sandy won't be a hurricane when it reaches - passes by? - the Mid-Atlantic. By then, it will be a tropical storm. If a reminder is necessary, last September's flooding was also caused by a storm with the same descriptor - Tropical Storm Lee.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, the lowdown on what Sandy could bring lower Northumberland County: heavy rains accumulating up to 10 inches, and sustained winds between 30 mph and 50 mph with gusts topping 60 mph.
That leaves potential for moderate to major flooding of small creeks and streams, not to mention severe runoff. It also would raise the potential for downed trees and power lines, knocking out electric service.
At least there's no snow in the forecast. Western Pennsylvania will have that to deal with.
While the storm's center could hover above the county Wednesday, its impact will be felt days earlier.
Today's weather is forecast to be mostly cloudy with a slight chance of showers. Come 2 a.m. Sunday, the rainfall will begin. The accumulation won't be out of the ordinary, that is until Monday when Sandy makes landfall between the Delmarva Peninsula and southern New England.
"The bulk of the effects would be late-Monday into Tuesday," Fitzgerald said. "Right now, there will be the potential for flooding and possible power outages, especially in the eastern-half of the state."
As of Friday evening, it wasn't clear when Sandy would be leaving Pennsylvania.
Regardless of the exact tract, Fitzgerald said people living near a flood-prone area should be prepared for flooding sometime between late-Monday and into Tuesday.
He also cautioned that all residents be alert for extended power outages.
"We can handle 3 inches of rain without flooding, but once we start over that there is a potential for flooding," he said. "Put 2 or 3 inches of rain on the ground and then gusty winds, it will be easier to topple trees and have power outages."
There is the issue of the ground. Stephen Jeffery, director of emergency management for Northumberland County, said in a press release that since vegetation is "going dormant," rainfall is more likely to become runoff.
The potential severity of this storm can not be understated. Government agencies at all levels are joined by utility services and weathermen in the same mantra: this storm could be historic.
"According to current forecasts, this could be the most severe storm to date this year," David Bonenberger, vice president of Distribution Operations, PPL Electric Utilities, said in a press release. "We're continuously monitoring weather reports, and we'll have the necessary crews and resources in place to respond to whatever comes our way."