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Published: Sunday, 1/9/2005

Quirky weather brings a surprise

Rito Pizanna, left, takes a breather while Mary Lourdes Palacios battles the packed snow. Rito Pizanna, left, takes a breather while Mary Lourdes Palacios battles the packed snow.

Those eager to do more sledding or cross-country skiing might want to do it this morning.

The region's funky on-again, off-again winter looks like it'll be off again hours from now as temperatures climb back into the high 30s and low 40s today, followed by mid-40 temperatures and a chance for rain tomorrow and Tuesday. More rain is possible Wednesday, with highs reaching into the low 50s.

Then, winter is expected to come back with a vengeance, with high temperatures in the teens and low 20s next weekend.

That, of course, is assuming the weather forecasts are right - an assumption that people were reminded yesterday morning that they shouldn't make.

Many awoke to the sight of an unexpected five or more inches of snow on the ground. Toledo's Point Place was among the hardest hit, with a reported 7 1/2 inches at one of two locations.

Even the venerable National Weather Service was thrown a curve. Meteorologist Kirk Lombardy said the agency's Cleveland office on Friday afternoon predicted an inch or two for the Toledo area.

He said the midnight shift accurately saw conditions changing, noticing that a storm system predicted for areas south of Toledo was moving farther north than anticipated.

Weather service officials put out a revised forecast to let people know more snow was on the way. But those updates came out between 3 and 4 a.m., long after most people went to bed.

"The storm just tracked farther north than expected," added Alan Reppert, a meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc., a private forecasting service based in State College, Pa. "Everybody was just expecting it to go farther south than it did."

Everybody, that is, except the storied Farmers' Almanac. It called for 7 to 14 inches of snow for the Great Lakes region and other parts of the Midwest for Jan. 8-11.

Jim Chamberlin puts his snowblower to good use clearing the St. Mark Lutheran Church sidewalk on Woodville Road. Mr. Chamberlin lives near the church and likes to be neighborly. Jim Chamberlin puts his snowblower to good use clearing the St. Mark Lutheran Church sidewalk on Woodville Road. Mr. Chamberlin lives near the church and likes to be neighborly.

Snowplow crews worked diligently to catch up with yesterday's impromptu storm.

County sheriff's offices, also apparently caught off-guard, came to no immediate consensus over what signals to get out to the general public as people were getting out of bed to start their day.

Lucas County, for example, initially declared a Level 1 Snow Emergency at 6:57 a.m. Neighboring Wood County declared a more serious Level 2 at 8:40 a.m.

Lucas followed suit at 10:09 a.m. by upgrading its designation to Level 2. Then, at 1:10 p.m., Wood downgraded its to Level 1. Lucas followed suit at 1:33 p.m.

The difference between the two advisories is that Level 2 goes beyond warning of slippery roads. It urges people to restrict their travel and stay off roads, if possible.

By 2 p.m., the snow stopped. The sky cleared. Traffic returned to normal. And the morning confusion was almost a memory.

No major pileups or injuries were reported.

And no major power outages were reported among FirstEnergy Corp. and Detroit Edison Co. customers. "This kind of snow does not cause us problems at all," Detroit Edison's John Austerberry said in reference to the light, fluffy texture of yesterday's precipitation.

But yesterday's snow caused even more problems for American Electric Power customers in Lima, Kenton, Bucyrus, Willard, Findlay, Upper Sandusky, Tiffin, Ottawa, Van Wert, and other northwest Ohio communities.

AEP officials have been preoccupied for days trying to get power restored since the massive ice storm last week. They still had 48,361 customers without power as of Friday night.

The snow caused additional outages in some areas and slowed power-restoration efforts in general, the utility said.

As of 9 a.m. yesterday, 47,335 customers remained without power. By 2:15 p.m., the situation had gotten even worse: AEP reported 49,280 customers without power, including more than 3,000 additional customers in the Lima area. The afternoon total was one of the biggest numbers since 76,000 customers were without power at the height of the ice storm.

The American Red Cross chapter's facility in Lima, where about 60 people were being sheltered, lost power at 2:45 p.m. yesterday. The facility immediately switched over to backup power provided by a gas-powered generator that was donated to that Red Cross chapter three years ago.

About 30 people continued to be sheltered at the Lima Allen Council on Community Affairs yesterday. But Phyllis Montrose, health and child disabilities coordinator, said the council notified them yesterday the facility has to be cleared at noon today for its Head Start program.

Those unable to return to their homes likely will be directed to the Red Cross or area churches being used as shelters, officials said.

National Weather Service records show that Findlay had one of the area's lightest snowfalls, at 2 inches. Cleveland, which usually gets more snow than Toledo, also got 2 inches. Toledo Express Airport reported 5 inches, as did Maumee, Monroe, and Tecumseh.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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