Western Pa. roads suffer as snow exceeds estimates
A winter storm packed a surprise for Western Pennsylvania on Thursday with snowfall exceeding expectations, causing some municipal officials to restrict travel on treacherous roads.
The heaviest snow fell in central and eastern Pennsylvania, closing schools, businesses and government offices, but the storm appeared to spare the state the huge power outages and large-scale traffic problems from last week's ice storm. Airlines canceled or delayed hundreds of flights at Philadelphia International Airport, and Pittsburgh International reported cancellations or delays for flights heading eastward.
Snow amounts ranged from 1 to 3 inches in Allegheny County, 3 to 5 inches in Westmoreland and Fayette counties, a foot in Harrisburg and more than 16 inches in suburban Philadelphia. As the snowfall tapered off, the National Weather Service predicted a chance for more through Sunday.
“It's the first year that winter has bothered me this much. It's relentless,” said Abby Murphy, 40, of Mt. Lebanon. She and her family plan to spend 10 days at Disney World in Florida next week. “It can't get here soon enough.”
Snowfall in many areas exceeded forecasters' expectations, and road crews struggled to keep up. Officials in the Westmoreland County communities of Unity, Hempfield and Greensburg imposed travel restrictions on roads into Friday, asking motorists to eliminate unnecessary trips and use patience and caution if driving is unavoidable.
“We wanted to make sure we have enough salt and anti-skid to keep everybody safe,” said Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto.
Crews were treating hills, curves, intersections and main thoroughfares to conserve the salt supply, and officials said snow accumulation would determine whether they extended the restriction. “We can't overuse the material in case we get more snow,” O'Barto said.
Greensburg was conserving its dwindling road salt, despite receiving 114 tons this week. Streets Superintendent Rick Hoyle estimated the city had about 350 tons of salt and anti-skid material.
“I can't remember anything like this,” Hoyle said of the winter's continual plowing and salting.
Some resourceful residents used leaf blowers to clear sidewalks. Others didn't mind another storm.
“I love this,” confessed Charlene Zugger, 48, of Upper St. Clair. “I would rather shovel snow in my driveway than cut grass.”
Further east, schools and businesses closed and government workers stayed home. Travel slowed and people cleared snow from driveways and sidewalks with snowflakes caked on their coats and caps.
“It's like having childhood again,” said Kelly Hambright, 39, of New Cumberland, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. “The kids love it. ... My husband is a snow plower; this is a blessing for us. I know for everyone else it's a hassle and a pain, but it's been good because in the winter, they don't work unless it snows.”
In a late-morning briefing at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters, Gov. Tom Corbett said nearly 800 National Guard troops were deployed to armories to prepare for emergencies resulting from the storm.
“They're there waiting for calls,” he said. “I hope we don't get the calls, but we're prepared.”
PennDOT closed HOV lanes in Allegheny County. Crews started planning Wednesday night for what looked like heavier than predicted snowfall, spokesman Steve Cowan said. Interstates were wet and slushy. Dispatchers across Western Pennsylvania reported crashes, including a fatality in Washington County and an overturned vehicle in Fayette County that temporarily closed Three Mile Hill on Route 31 in Bullskin until rescue workers freed the occupants.
Allegheny County Public Works Director Steve Johnson urged drivers to use caution even on plowed roads: “We feel like we're keeping up with it, but people are probably not seeing dark, wet pavement like they liked to see. Then again, if we weren't doing anything, then people wouldn't be able to find the roads.”
PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Transatt said the agency was moving equipment from Erie, one of the nation's snowiest cities, and other western areas to Lancaster, Reading and the Lehigh Valley. PennDOT has used 926,000 tons of salt this season, compared with 748,000 tons, on average, in recent years.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the city recorded 43 inches before the latest storm hit, nearly twice the snowfall in a normal year.
“This is highly unusual weather ... not just here in Philadelphia, but in talking with other mayors and government officials up and down the East Coast,” Nutter said.
Trib Total Media staff writers Craig Smith, Tory Parrish and Aaron Aupperlee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.