They might be blizzards without attention spans, but snow squalls are getting a full week of attention this year in the Keystone State.
We are in the middle of the “inaugural” Snow Squall Awareness Week in Pennsylvania, a joint project among the National Weather Service and several state agencies, said Jonathan Guseman, warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service office in State College.
Snow squalls typically last a half-hour or less, but they can seemingly materialize out of nowhere, like a sudden summer thunderstorm, and put down a quick two inches of snow incited by blinding, blizzard-level winds.
But, one might reasonably ask, does the average Philadelphian need to worry about snow squalls in the week before Thanksgiving?
“It’s a little early in the season for us,” said Dean Iovino, a lead meteorologist at the weather service office in Mount Holly.
Pennsylvania, however, is a state of many climates, from the land of the lake-effect snows downwind of Lake Erie, to the Siberian northern tier, to the Poconos, to the relative tropics of Philadelphia International Airport.
The region did experience a squall as early Dec. 3, back in 1989, during one of the coldest Decembers on record after a white Thanksgiving.
A squall is not to be confused with the more benign snow flurry or shower that lasts only a few minutes and lacks the ferocity of a squall — think of the difference between a draft seeping through the door on a cold day and the door flying open with a gust of frigid wind.
Squalls often are set off by potent Arctic fronts that force the air ahead of them to rise frenetically, moisture condensing as the air rockets into the colder layers in the higher atmosphere.
The weather service issues a squall warning when one is imminent. If you are in your car when it happens, officials advise getting off the road if possible. If not, turn on the lights, stay in the lane, don’t slam on the brakes, and increase your following distance.
And, of course, if you’re about to go somewhere when a warning has been issued, wait it out. It won’t last long.