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Storm blankets Armstrong County highways

Slow going MITCH FRYER I LEADER TIMES Motorist found this hilly stretch of Route 28/66 traveling north just past Route 85 in Rayburn clear of snow during a snowstorm Wednesday afternoon. PennDOT was busy all day and into the evening, keeping up with the falling snow. Some area state roads were closed to traffic so they could be cleared.

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By Tim Karan
Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The gift of a white Christmas turned into a curse when it arrived in Armstrong County a day late.

Snow began to fall in the mid-county around 10 a.m. Wednesday and within a few hours, blizzard-like conditions brought much of the area to a standstill.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning in Armstrong at 10:39 a.m. Wednesday and cautioned that travel could become hazardous or impossible. Forecasts called for up to eight inches of snow in some areas and roads in many places became impassable by early afternoon.

Andrew Firment, maintenance manager for PennDOT District 10, said the rate of snowfall was staggering.

“The morning wasn't too bad but once the weather moved into the area, it really came good,” he said.

“We were getting estimates of more than an inch of snow an hour.”

Calls for disabled vehicles, including one overturned along Cherry Run Road in Plumcreek and multiple tractor trailers along Route 28/66, began coming into 911 around 1 p.m. and state police started shutting down portions of major highways soon after.

Around 1:30 p.m., police closed Route 28/66 north of Route 85 in Rayburn and Route 422 between Kittanning and Elderton.

“Route 422 was pretty much at a standstill (Wednesday afternoon),” said Firment. “But we coordinated with state police to have them escort our trucks in amongst the people on the road to get in and clean things up.”

All the roads were reopened by later afternoon.

Firment said PennDOT crews were prepared in advance for the storm and began spraying roads with salt brine as early as 4 a.m. Wednesday.

By the hectic afternoon, all 31 of the district's trucks and plows were in service.

“We had plenty of people come in to work even with the holiday,” said Firment. “I have to give a lot of credit to our guys. Some of them had planned vacations after Christmas but they came out to help anyway.”

By late afternoon, crews were diverted from secondary roads to clear main routes like Routes 28, 28/66, 422, 85, 156 and 56. But Firment said conditions could have been far worse.

“One thing we had in our favor was the higher temperature,” he said. “We were at around 30 degrees (Wednesday) and that temperature really allows our (de-icing) materials to work.”

Although the winter weather warning was set to expire at 6 a.m. Thursday, Firment stressed the need for drivers to keep abreast of changing road conditions.

“This is the first real taste of winter we've got this year and we can't hesitate to caution people enough to be aware of severe weather,” he said. “But we'll have people working around the clock until everything is cleared.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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