Whether Hurricane Sandy's arrival next week will bring windblown rain or heavy, waterlogged snow depends on the path it takes into America, local weather forecasters said Thursday.
The hurricane, expected to strike the East Coast on Monday, will almost certainly bring unpleasant weather to central Pennsylvania. What form that weather takes - and whether it will be bad enough to cause damage - has yet to be determined.
"This could be a pretty big storm," John LaCorte, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in State College, said. "The main threat around here is going to be the rain and high winds."
By Thursday afternoon, Sandy had made its way through Jamaica, Cuba and much of the Bahamas en route to the Florida coastline. Forecasters have predicted a journey up the Carolinas during the weekend, with a left hook into New England Monday or Tuesday.
Sandy's route into Pennsylvania could ultimately determine how it will affect central Pennsylvania, LaCorte said: If it drives through New England and New York first, the storm could bring enough cold weather to cause Altoona's first snowfall of the season.
More likely, however, is widespread rain and high winds from Monday all through Tuesday, LaCorte and Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
"We're watching it. That's for sure," Blair County Emergency Management Director Dan Boyles said Thursday. "We'll probably be putting everybody on alert Sunday or Monday."
Boyles said snow won't be a major concern, at least not in Blair County. If it falls, he said, it will likely be heavy and wet - not the stuff of destructive blizzards.
But with many tress still laden with fall leaves, heavy snowflakes could be enough to pull branches down onto power lines, Cambria County Emergency Services Director Ron Springer said, while piled-up leaves could pose a flooding risk around drains and culverts.
Heavy, constant rain and high winds are Blair County's real concern, particularly in already flood-prone portions of the Juniata River watershed, Boyles said.
Soil in the region is already saturated with water, which could spell trouble if Sandy's rain clouds hang over central Pennsylvania for an extended period, he said. The Blair County agency is set to dispatch damage assessment teams when the storm first strikes.
"We could have some decent flooding if it stays inland," Boyles said.
As for the expected high winds, electricity provider Penelec has prepared workers in Altoona and points east, FirstEnergy spokesman Scott Surgeoner said Thursday.
The parent company's meteorologists have tracked Sandy for days, and Penelec is prepared to move repair teams from region to region if there's serious damage, Surgeoner said.
PennDOT officials have scheduled an internal conference this afternoon to plan for the storm's arrival, District 9 spokeswoman Tara Callahan-Henry said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.