March snowstorm shuts schools, briefly clogs roads

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 6:33 a.m.

A winter storm walloped some communities on Wednesday but breezed through others, bewildering National Weather Service meteorologists.

The snow, heaviest in parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland and southern Butler, Armstrong and Indiana counties, weighed down power lines and coated tree branches but stopped by mid-morning and began to melt by afternoon, when sunshine raised the temperature to 41 degrees. A reprieve is expected, with weekend temperatures in the 50s.

“It was a very interesting event,” said meteorologist Pat Herald said. “I don't know how else to put it. The heavier totals are very localized.”

Nearly a foot of snow fell in some areas, causing schools to close for the day and giving kids time for sled-riding, snowman-building and snowball fights.

Despite scattered road closures and accidents, many commuters encountered an easy commute on roads that crews plowed and salted early.

The snow may have caused a tree to drop onto a Chevrolet Avalanche driven by James Holmes of Valencia, along Days Run Road in Frazer at 4:30 a.m. Holmes cut his hand.

“It smashed the whole cab. He could have died,” said Frazer police Chief Carl Toscolani.

Doug Kujawa, 41, of Pleasant Hills used a tractor to clear neighbors' driveways.

“It's miserable,” he said. “It's pretty heavy.”

More than 1,300 flights in Washington, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia were scrubbed or delayed — affecting flights at Pittsburgh International Airport — and government offices in Washington closed as the storm, which dropped 9 inches of snow on Chicago, moved east. Forecasters expected it to bring a foot of snow to the Mid-Atlantic coast. A winter storm warning remained in place for parts of New England.

More than 100,000 people in Virginia and Maryland lost power. The weather service reported 24 inches on the ground in Franklin, W.Va. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency.

In Western Pennsylvania, a few thousand customers without power dwindled to a few dozen by late afternoon. In most cases, trees hitting lines caused the outages, said West Penn Power spokesman Todd Meyers.

In Allegheny County, snowfall ranged from 2 inches in Carnegie, Scott, Oakland and Braddock to nearly a foot in Holiday Park and Natrona Heights, according to unofficial totals from the weather service. About 6 inches fell in Baldwin and Wexford.

Heavy bands left a foot of snow in Sarver in Butler County and in New Kensington and Murrysville in northern Westmoreland County. Up to 5 inches fell in Beaver County and about 7 inches in Washington County.

A glitch in Plum School District's notification service caused confusion. Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said some parents received multiple messages and late messages Wednesday morning. Some messages indicated a two-hour delay; others said the district canceled classes.

“It was a small problem on their end; it caused a large problem on our end,” Glasspool said, noting the service told the district it corrected the problem.

Some colleges and universities delayed or canceled classes. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium closed for the day, and the National Aviary delayed opening. Port Authority of Allegheny County spokesman Jim Ritchie said some bus routes experienced 15-minute delays but the light-rail system and inclines were unaffected.

“All I have to say is, never believe the groundhog,” Lori Cofo, 47, of Mt. Lebanon said of Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of early spring. “He is about the only one who likes the snow. I'm just tired of it and anxious for spring.”

Michael Merck, 34, of Edgewood took the weather in stride as he shoveled his walkway.

“At this time of year, it's always more than you want,” he said. “But they did a good job of telling us to expect a few inches.”

Renatta Signorini is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or Bloomberg News and staff writers Salena Zito, Brian Rittmeyer, Chuck Biedka and Karen Zapf contributed.

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