Icy winter storm melts into slush in Westmoreland
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 7:51 a.m.
Anyone walking or driving in Westmoreland County early Wednesday morning battled a coating of ice that glazed roads and weighed down power lines, but rising temperatures started a quick meltdown.
“There were no major incidents overnight,” said Dan Stevens, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Safety. “Things are getting better. Everything has really, really calmed down. It's peaceful. It's a normal day.”
West Penn Power officials reported only a handful of outages in Westmoreland County, mainly in the Greensburg and Derry areas.
“Between 200 and 300 outages is normal, and we didn't have anything near that,” Stevens added.
Drivers and others took the ice and slush in stride.
At 7 a.m., George Zaspel of Kurt Zaspel Landscaping in Export had just finished plowing the parking lot at S&T Bank in Murrysville.
“Today's bad,” he said. “It's wet. The only good thing is most of it came overnight. This isn't too good for a salt shortage, because the only way to melt the ice is with salt.”
Zaspel said the difficulty this winter has been the continuous few-inch snowfalls rather than one or two bigger storms.
“It isn't too much of the amount of the snow; the problem has been all those little storms,” Zaspel said.
John Horvath was the only customer sipping coffee at Dick's Diner along Route 22 about 7:30 a.m., even though the popular restaurant had been open for an hour.
“In this kind of weather, you get there when you get there. No sense killing yourself — then you're no good,” he said.
The consulting engineer travels from Newark, Ohio, two or three weeks every month and is now working on a job in Robinson.
“I'm in no big hurry to get out on the freeway right now,” he said.
Denise DiDomenico, a server at the diner for 13 years, said business is normally slow in January and February.
“People don't have time to stop because they're on their way to work and the roads are bad. It's usually enough to keep me moving,” she said, adding that her husband drove her to work in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Gabe Felice said he was prepared for the worst as he headed to work in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
“I brought a change of clothes and might end up staying at my brother's if it gets bad tonight.”
His drive from Greensburg to North Huntingdon was “better than I expected,” he said.
John Smozski's commute to work from Forest Hills on Route 30 was a little slower than usual because of the thick slush, he said.
Spokesman Todd Myers said West Penn Power crews reported to work in staggered shifts, starting at midnight, so a full complement would be on duty by Wednesday morning. Private contractors hired to remove downed trees and limbs were on standby.
“West Penn at one point had 6,000 affected. We've restored about 2,500 customers. The bulk of the restoration is out in Franklin County in central Pennsylvania,” he said.
Myers said the utility company hopes to restore power by midnight to customers in the southwestern corner. “We're very hard hit in eastern Pennsylvania,” he said. “We were extremely hard hit in eastern Maryland.”
Myers said linemen were told to be ready to spend time out of the region.
“They're coming in packed and will be able to go where they're needed for several days,” he said.
Hempfield is running low on road salt and hoped to borrow some from the county, said Supervisor Doug Weimer. More salt has been ordered, but suppliers can't say when it will arrive because of ice jams on some rivers.
“Until we get our salt bins filled, we may not be able to adequately respond,” Weimer said.
Mike Volpe, public works director, said he received an additional 50 tons of salt Tuesday, but the township will continue to conserve until more is delivered.
“It's rough,” Volpe said. “As temperatures get warmer, the roads get slushy. We had about 3 to 4 inches of snow, then rain and freezing rain. We're pushing the slush off the road, and we're looking pretty good.”
Stevens said officials already are monitoring forecasts for the weekend, when another storm is expected to pass through the region.
“We're watching Sunday into Monday,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writers Stacey Federoff and Craig Smith contributed to this report.
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