What was that? Sunday's surprise snowstorm was largest of this trying season
The winter that has tried us all saved its worst for last in eastern Northumberland and southern Columbia counties.
Sunday night's surprise snowstorm dropped 8.5 inches at Aqua Pennsylvania's water filtration plant in Bear Gap, making it the largest accumulation from the season's 11 measurable snowfalls.
Residents in higher elevations in the region reported upwards of a foot, with reports of 10 inches in both Shamokin and Mount Carmel.
PPL on Sunday night and Monday responded to 140 individual cases of power outages, with some roads closed due to downed power lines until as late as 4:30 p.m. Monday when there were still 835 customers without power, the majority in East Cameron, Ralpho and Shamokin townships.
Confirming the oddity of the situation, by Monday afternoon, the temperature had reached nearly 60 degrees. The warmup created rivers out of streets as what everyone hopes is the last snowfall of the season was washed down the drain.
It also closed schools for the day at Lourdes Regional, Shamokin Area and Southern Columbia, the latter being without power, while Line Mountain and Mount Carmel Area had two-hour delays.
After the 10 previous snowstorms, seven instances where temperatures dropped below zero this winter and six snowfall or temperature records, people were left shaking their heads Monday - if they had the energy to do so after digging out their vehicles.
No fooling, there will be no April snowstorms, right?
"It's something that you can never rule out; we have had April snowfalls in the past," National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Craig Evanego said Monday. "(But) right now, we don't see any conditions brewing on the immediate horizon."
How'd it happen?
No one saw Sunday's storm brewing either.
Forecasts were primarily for rain, up to 2 inches. But temperatures fell, particularly in higher elevations, and the rain slowly changed to sleet - coating surfaces in some areas with up to a half-inch of ice - and then snow.
By Sunday evening, it was a whiteout with winds whipping the snow around which made driving treacherous. But it was a heavy snow that bowed and snapped branches, particularly on pine trees.
Paul Head, a meteorologist with NWS in State College, said the "center band" of the storm went across higher elevations from Bradford County south through Columbia and Montour counties and into eastern Northumberland and stalled, creating the heavy accumulation.
"It was a weird thing to see larger snowfall totals in just that one spot," he said.
The heavy snow extended as far west as Trevorton, but another 8 to 10 miles to the west, in the Sunbury and Herndon areas, the snow only coated the grass.
Head said a NWS observer from Shamokin reported 10 inches. The highest amount he was aware of was 12 inches at the World's End State Park in Sullivan County.
Told there were reports of that much in the mountainous areas near Shamokin and Mount Carmel, Head said, "Those homes on top of hills, it wouldn't surprise me."
Sunday's storm likely broke a record for March 30, but it must be researched further, he said.
A record was set at the Harrisburg International Airport Sunday - but for rain. A total of 2.02 inches was recorded there Sunday, breaking the old record of 2 inches set in 1974.
The largest snowfall recorded this season at Aqua's plant in Bear Gap prior to Sunday was 6 inches on Feb. 15.
As was the case for the average homeowner, municipalities were caught off-guard by Monday's storm.
The street department in Coal Township was already moving into spring mode, with three of its 11 vehicles having had plows and anti-skid spreaders removed, said township manager Rob Slaby. It took about two hours to get all equipment into operating mode.
Slaby estimates Sunday's storm will cost the township between $2,000 and $5,000 in overtime wages, fuel and anti-skid material.
Shamokin Street Department Foreman Kevin Richardson said two of the city's five trucks didn't have plows on them, but it only took about 15 minutes to get them back on.
Still, there were other troubles.
"One vehicle slid off the road and hit a tree on Mulberry Street, and we couldn't budge it until today," Richardson said Monday.
The transmission went on a second truck.
"We quickly fixed what we could to get things running," Richardson said. "Between us and the sun, the streets are getting better now," he said about 12:30 p.m. Monday.
Like mostly everyone else, Richardson hopes this was winter's last gasp.
"We can't take much more," he said. "We have very little of the winter road salt and anti-skid mix left. I hope we don't get anymore snow, or we will be in trouble."
PPL had 1,885 power outages in Northumberland County as of 10 p.m. Sunday and another 551 in Columbia. Those numbers were not easily reduced Monday because of the widespread trouble.
Of the 655 customers without power at 6:15 p.m., 331 were in Shamokin Township, 150 in Ralpho and 64 in East Cameron.
"When the storm started, we directed our efforts to our maintenance areas in Marion Heights and Bloomsburg because we knew we would be hard hit here," said Teri MacBride, regional affairs director for PPL Susquehanna Valley.
Roads were closed throughout the area, too, mostly related to the power outages. Route 487 from Route 54 to Southern Columbia High School didn't reopen until Monday afternoon; PennDOT reported it at 2:30 p.m. The last roads closed because of downed power lines in Northumberland County, Lower Road and Point Breeze Road between Route 225 in Lower Mahanoy Township and Route 125 in East Cameron Township, was reported reopened by PennDOT at 4:30 p.m., more than 24 hours after the snow had started falling Sunday.