Winter storm leaves Fay-West area in a mess

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 6:25 p.m.

“It was a mess.”

That's the only way Connellsville Street Department manager Vernon Ohler could describe what he faced on Wednesday.

A winter storm roared through the Fay-West region, causing emergency personnel to spend much of the day handling accidents and PennDOT and city, borough and township road crews trying to keep up with the snow and ice that fell at times heavily, covering the roadways.

“We had 3 to 4 inches, but it wasn't snow; it was ice,” said Ohler.

Those icy conditions caused emergency personnel to ask residents of the Fay-West area to stay off the roads unless travel was absolutely necessary.

Jerry Lucia, Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department chief, said unnecessary vehicles on hazardous roadways create potential hazards.

“If your travel is not 100 percent necessary, then I would advise you to stay home,” Lucia said on Wednesday evening. “If you are out and you have trouble or if you clog the highways, then emergency vehicles that need to get through will have a more difficult time, and that is not safe.”

Ohler said the city street department tried to keep up with the icy road conditions. The crew concentrated on main roads, then moving on to side roads. The crew hopes to make it to the alleys in Connellsville on Thursday.

“We did a good job keeping the main roads open,” Ohler said.

City crews had everything pretty much cleared in an eight-hour span, he said.

“We'll be working on some touch-up here and there, then we'll hit the alleys,” he said.

More than 100 plow trucks were deployed in Fayette and Westmoreland counties, say Jay Ofsanik, spokesman for PennDOT District 12 in Uniontown.

“The conditions in Westmoreland, from our last report, didn't have as much slush or snow as we have in Fayette, but it could change,” Ofsanik said about 2 p.m. Wednesday. “It seems like it's slowing down in all the counties. We'll see if that holds up.”

Ofsanik encouraged anyone who did not have to go out to stay home.

The storm hit the Fay-West region about 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to weather officials.

It created nasty travel conditions on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other main highways. In fact, speed limits were lowered on portions of the turnpike until the storm passed.

Short-term power outages were sporadic throughout the area, according to West Penn Power. Spokesman Todd Meyers said fewer than 1 percent of customers were without power.

Bullskin officials reported a traffic light out at the intersection of Bellview Road and Route 119. Connellsville police reported lights at the intersection of Pittsburgh Street and Fairview Avenue were out about 6 p.m.

Several businesses in the Uniontown area closed early because of travel conditions.

The weather did not dampen the spirits of shoppers at Westmoreland Mall.

“We still have a pretty good group of shoppers out there,” said mall manager Mike Egan. “I have to assume some people stayed home, but we've got a lot of people here today.”

While higher elevations received several inches of snow, the lower areas suffered from ice, said AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Pigott.

And now, according to Pigott, the worst is over.

“The storm came up from the Gulf Coast through Louisiana, then headed north,” Pigott said.

Pigott explained the storm is going to jump over the region before it becomes more intense and keeps moving east.

“It was moving north, west of the Appalachians, then it made a little jump and is now moving east where it will then move up through New England,” the meteorologist said.

Pigott said accumulations of an inch or less can be expected in the lower elevations through the weekend.

“You're out of the heavy snow,” Pigott said. “The heavy snow is mostly done for now.”

But another storm front may be on the way.

Looking at the weekend, Pigott said another potential storm is on its way from the Carolina coast. It is too soon to tell how it may develop.

“We have another storm on the horizon that may bring in some more snow, but it's a little too early to tell what will happen with it yet,” he said.

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer. Trib Total Media staff members contributed to this story.

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