Kokomo — Weather forecasting never becomes as important, or as difficult, as when a severe storm is bearing down.
Tuesday, forecasters had their hands full trying to determine where, exactly, to draw the line on the fast-moving winter storm.
Originally slated to be north of where the sleet turned to snow, Kokomo residents might have been surprised when the onslaught Tuesday afternoon took the form of sleet and freezing rain, rather than snow.
Earlier in the day, the National Weather Service was predicting Kokomo would get 13 to 15 inches of snow accumulation by the time the storm abated today.
By 5 p.m., that forecast had changed radically, with meteorologists predicting instead that Kokomo would see sleet Tuesday until 7 p.m., and then freezing rain through the overnight hours.
The snow now looks likely for this morning, although that could always change.
To the north of Kokomo, snowfall totals are expected to top 18 inches. And to the south, Indianapolis residents were worried about ice accumulation causing power outages.
“Having over a foot of snow is actually a better condition than having an inch of ice,” said Adam Baker, National Weather Service meteorologist in Indianapolis.
“Ice sticks to everything it touches as it falls. All it has to do is make contact with something below freezing and it sticks,” Baker said. “It’s going to continue to weigh down power lines and trees, and it’s not going to go anywhere fast.”
The gradient line, where freezing rain turns to sleet, and then to snow, is “fairly tight” for this storm, meaning that one or two counties’ difference to the north or south can make a world of difference, Baker added.
By Tuesday afternoon, the ice line seemed to have expanded north and south beyond what forecasters had originally predicted.
Precipitation was due to begin shortly after noon Tuesday, and continue to get worse as the evening progressed.
With the arrival of sleet in Kokomo, concerns about blowing snow conditions decreased somewhat, only to be replaced by increased concerns about road conditions.
Winds are expected to average 15 to 20 mph today, with gusts up to 35 mph. Ice accumulation in Kokomo should be somewhere around .25 to .40 inches, enough to make for slick driving conditions.
Sleet and snow accumulation overnight are expected to be somewhere around 1 to 3 inches.
Today, the freezing rain is expected to turn to snow, but by then the brunt of the storm will have moved on, and all but an inch or so of snow was expected to fall overnight, Baker said.
Once the massive storm moves off to the Northeast, it will be replaced by a high-pressure system, bringing subzero temperatures tonight, and highs in the low teens Thursday and Friday.
“We won’t see temperatures even approaching the freezing mark until probably Sunday,” Baker said.
Winds won’t die down until Thursday, and in the meantime, the ice accumulation could knock out power to the swath of the state between Tipton County and Brown County, along a southwest-to-northeast line.
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at email@example.com