Jim Pirko clears the walk in front of Superior Bedding in Olde Town Grove City, but wonders where he will be able to pile any extra snowfal that may come in the days ahead. (Carol Ann Gregg/Allied News)

By Felicia A. Petro

Allied News Staff Writer

Seasons come and seasons go, and winter has arrived with a vengeance.

“We’ve had snow nine out of the last 10 days. I don’t think we’ve had that stretch last year, constantly day after day,” said Jim Cochran, a local weather buff in Worth Township, Mercer County.

Cochran’s home weather station primarily tracks temperatures, wind speed and rainfall, which he records on his computer to gauge monthly averages.

However, he’s constantly checking out local news stations and keeping an eye out for particularly bad weather.

Besides the continuous snowfall, one unusual phenomena that’s happened this winter was “that light (freezing) drizzle” on Wednesday, he said.

Cochran explained that three things occurred in the atmosphere to make that happen.

“The upper atmosphere was letting it snow, and it had a warm layer underneath to melt those snowflakes, then the lower level was in the 20s, to make it re-freeze as drizzle,” he said.

“Then the ground temperature was going to freeze anything that dropped unless salt or calcium on roads would make it not freeze.”

It was like a “sandwich,” Cochran said. “You have to have all three conditions right ... to have freezing drizzle.”

Last year was marked with more ice storms, which is different from freezing drizzle, he noted.

“This (drizzle) was just a skim of ice, very thin. You can’t see it,” Cochran said. “The volume of precipitation coming out of the sky is more with ice storms, and puts more weight on trees and power lines.”

Cochran reports some of his findings to the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN program in Pittsburgh.

He has a special code name, so the NWS knows it’s him.

“The last time I called was when we had all that ice three to four weeks ago,” he said. Just before Christmas, Cochran reported local wind gusts of over 45 mph to the NWS. That day, the quick wind brought down two trees on a trailer in Stoneboro, leaving four people homeless.

Strong winds are determined by temperature, “when cold air comes in verses the warm,” Cochran said.

“Cold air is heavier, lower, and warm air is higher. When the cold pushes the hot air out, there’s more chances of wind.”

The highest wind speed this year was 27 mph on Jan. 2.

“It not too outrageous,” Cochran said. “On Jan. 3, we had 26 mph winds at 2 a.m. but there’s not too many people out at that time.”

In 2009, the highest wind speed was 52 mph on Feb. 12; in 2008, 57 mph on Jan. 18, Cochran added.

In January of last year, the average mean temperature was 18.2 degrees, he said. This month in 2008, it was 27.6 degrees.

“So far this month, the lowest mean temperature was 11.5 degrees and the highest mean temperature was 24.3 degrees,” he added.

The lowest temperature this year was on Jan. 3 at 6.9 degrees. It was about 8 a.m. at Cochran’s home, which sits on a hill, he said. “I have higher temperatures.”

The lowest temperature in January 2009 was -10.7 degrees, which was on the 17th. The lowest the year prior in January was -1.1 degrees on the 21st.

Besides his weather hobby, Cochran has some hands-on experience with temperature. He plowed for PennDOT for three years.

“They had infrared light that measured temperature on the road,” he said, which determined how much salt would be laid.

Bridges are obviously colder, because there’s no ground underneath them. Valleys are more frigid than hills. And trees have a large effect on road temperature.

“If you’re traveling on I-79 and there’s a lot of trees on the west side, you get less afternoon sun (on the road), if the trees are between the sun and the road,” Cochran said. If the trees are on both the west and east side, the road “won’t get much morning sun, either,” he added.

As winter snow rages on, Cochran isn’t so sure February is going to be the worst snow month this year, as predicted by forecasters.

“By the looks of things, December was already twice what we’d ordinarily get,” he said.

“I really need to wait until the end of the year to know for sure.”

Published January 9, 2010 in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.

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