EAST LIVERPOOL - Just in time for the week of Halloween, millions of Americans living along the East Coast have been preparing for the approach of the so-called "Frankenstorm," the collision of Hurricane Sandy and the cold front currently moving through the area.
The good news for residents of the tri-state area is that, as of Sunday evening, the latest models from the National Weather Service showed Sandy moving in a more eastward track than previously anticipated, reaching only as far west as central Pennsylvania. For us, the main concerns will be heavy rainfall and strong, possibly damaging winds, according to Rich Kane, a meteorologist who spoke via phone from the Pittsburgh office of the National Weather Service in Moon Township.
Kane said the heaviest rains will be seen on Monday evening and continue through early Tuesday morning. "Two to three inches of rain isn't out of the question, maybe even four inches," he said. During this same period, winds are also expected to be at their worst, with sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts as high as 50 mph.
Along those lines, the NWS issued a flood watch for most of the Ohio River Valley, from 6 a.m. today until 7 p.m. Tuesday. There is also a high wind warning in effect from noon today through noon on Tuesday.
A drop in temperatures forecast for Tuesday night, with overnight lows down into the 30s, could change the rain into wet snow. With high temperatures reaching into the low 80s just this past week, however, Kane says the ground is still too warm for snow to build up on anything but grass and leaves. "Any substantial accumulation looks negligible at this time," he said. The heaviest snowfall will be confined to higher-elevation areas, such as Tucker and Preston counties in eastern West Virginia.
According to Kane, the trees rapidly thinning of leaves means any heavy wet snow that may fall will have less to cling to, reducing the chance of tree limbs collapsing under the weight. The bad news is that many of those fallen leaves could clog roof gutters and storm sewer drains. In more serious cases, catch basins may not be able to drain properly, causing additional flooding on roadways.
Kane is adamant about the hazards of driving in flooded areas. "People should never, ever drive through a flooded roadway," he said. The danger comes from being unable determine how deep the standing water is, which could stall out an engine and leave motorists stranded in rising water. "Anything more than six inches deep is just not worth it," he cautions.
As for the high winds, Kane advises that any loose objects outside, such as garbage cans, toys, plastic furniture and the like should be brought indoors where they can't become a flying hazard. He also said motorists should exercise caution on freeways and interstates, particularly those driving tall, high-profile vehicles that could be pushed around by the wind.
Kane's best advice for storm preparedness is to have extra batteries on hand for flashlights and radios in case power is lost. "Prepare for anything you would have if you were going to lose power for an extended period," he said. "Sometimes it only takes one large branch or one tree to go down, and we have an issue."