The number that has forecasters worried about Friday's Upstate NY snowstorm
Syracuse, N.Y. -- There's one number that has forecasters worried about the winter storm expected to hit Upstate New York beginning tonight, and it's not just the snowfall total.
What has meteorologists concerned is the large amount of water that Friday's snow will carry, and the damage that could wreak on power lines and human hearts.
Forecasters talk about the "liquid equivalent" of snow; that is, how many inches of water are contained in each inch of snow. For fluffy lake effect snow in the dead of an Upstate winter, that ratio can be as high as 25 inches of snow to 1 inch of water.
Friday's snow, however, could be five times heavier than that.
"You're going to have snow-to-liquid ratio between five to 10 to one," said Brian Donegan,a Weather Channel meteorologistwho lives in Central New York.
The latest National Weather Service forecast predicts about 9 inches of snow for Syracuse with about an inch of water. That snow could be twice as heavy as what fell on Syracuse's snowiest day of the winter so far, Jan. 13. The 8.9 inches of snow that day contained a half-inch of water. That was tied with Dec. 13 for the snowiest day of the winter so far.
More than a foot of snow could fall Friday in the hills of the Southern Tier, and the highest elevations of the Catskills could get more than 20 inches. The weather service is concerned about the wet snow causing power outages, particularly because winds could gust to 45 mph.
"The dense and wet snow weighing on trees, and gusty northwest winds that will also develop Friday, could lead to scattered power outages throughout the region," the weather service said.
The weather service office in Binghamton will take the unusual step of holding a webinar today for emergency management officials.
Power outages aren't the only worry. Donegan said one study estimates about 100 people a year die when shoveling snow.
"This snow will be a lot heavier and put more strain on your body than the lake effect snow most people here are used to," he said.
Donegan said wetter snow tends to fall in the beginning and late parts of the season, including March. The air is warmer now than it is during most of the deep winter, he said, and warmer air can hold more water. Temperatures across much of Upstate will hover around freezing for most of the day Friday.
In addition, this storm system will have a high amount of moisture to work with, Donegan said, because it's a combination of two separate systems, one moving in from the Great Lakes and one heading up the East Coast.
"When these two systems merge," he said, "they're going to have a lot of moisture."