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Waiting for January - and snow

Think snow is running late this year? Be patient. Though the Philadelphia region has received a mere 1.6-inch dusting since Nov. 1, that's right on schedule.

Think snow is running late this year? Be patient.

Though the Philadelphia region has received a mere 1.6-inch dusting since Nov. 1, that's right on schedule.

We're "a whopping four-tenths of an inch under normal," Mark DeLisi, a meteorologist in the Mount Holly office of the National Weather Service, said yesterday.

Snowflakes fell on seven days this month, DeLisi said, but the only measurable accumulation was that 1.6 inches on Dec. 5.

You could say we've been the hole in a snow-iced doughnut. Atlantic City received 4.4 inches of snow this month; Wilmington got 4.1 inches. And 6.2 inches were dumped on Allentown, well above the city's usual 3.8 inches for December.

Around these parts it's just been gray, said DeLisi, who put December's "overcast" factor about 70 percent, slightly above average. Rainfall is up a bit, too, he said - 3.30 inches so far, compared with an average of 2.87 inches.

No snow here doesn't mean there isn't skiing in the Poconos and surrounding areas, however. Camelback Ski in Tannersville and Elk Mountain in Susquehanna County, north of Scranton, report boffo conditions.

"We are in a heck of a lot better shape this year than last year," said Rich Wiseman, vice president and general manager of Camelback, which opened a week early on Dec. 8.

"We've got all our lifts running and 85 percent of our trails are made," Wiseman said.

At Elk Mountain, which also opened ahead of schedule, general manager Gregg Confer had a mountain thick with skiers yesterday.

"This time last year, I had six or seven trails open," said Confer, president of the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association. Now, he said, "I've got 15 trails open."

The good ski conditions come courtesy of a November cold snap during which resorts laid down plenty of machine-made snow, Confer said.

"We love nights that are 10 to 15 degrees and no wind," he said.

Closer to home, the lack of harsh weather has been a boon to golf courses.

"Our rounds are up because of the weather's not being so cold," said Bill Galloway, an assistant pro at Scotland Run Golf Club in Williamstown.

The course has been closed only two days due to foul weather.

And morning frost delays, which bite into revenue when they force tee times to be delayed, are also down, Galloway said.

But nothing, especially good weather, lasts forever. This region tends to get most of its snow in January (an average 6.4 inches), February (6.6 inches) and March (3.2 inches), DeLisi said.

"The only thing typical about a Pennsylvania winter is that nothing is typical," said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Chizmar. The department has its usual minimum of 350,000 tons of salt tucked away, Chizmar said.

The state's budget for snow removal this year is $179 million, determined by averaging the cost of snow removal for the last five years.

"We can spend more if more is needed," Chizmar said. "We just use other money. If we have to dig into our funds, maybe a mile or two of highway in some district might not get resurfaced next year."

For now, however, the forecast is mild: Look for above-normal temperatures, in the 50s today and 40s tomorrow, with a chance of rain, DeLisi said.

As for January, don't ask DeLisi. Count this weather professional among those who does not put much stock in long-range predictions.

Go to five different sources, you get five different opinions, DeLisi said.

"It's easy to forecast three or four days in advance if you know it's going to be sunny," he said. "But those long-range forecasts are very tenuous."