Parts of region under winter storm warning as snow continues
(UPDATED: 5:19PM, 3/21) Just before 5 p.m., PennDOT and Pennsylvania Turnpike officials announced that some restrictions have been lifted, including:
• The turnpike truck/trailer ban has been lifted only on the east-west main line from the Ohio line to Breezewood.
• The turnpike's 45 mile-per-hour speed limit restriction was lifted only on the east-west main line from the Ohil line to the New Stanton exit.
• The overall ban on commercial vehicles has been lifted for Interstate 70 between the Maryland state line and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and for the entire westbound-only length of Interstate 84.
• • •
Parts of Western Pennsylvania received up to 6 inches of snow Wednesday morning, and more is on the way, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service upgraded a winter weather advisory to a winter storm warning for much of Westmoreland County, including Greensburg.
Areas affected by the warning could see another 4 inches of snow, according to the weather service.
The snow was expected to stop falling in most of Allegheny County by around 2 p.m. Westmoreland County communities such as Greensburg, Youngwood and New Stanton were expected to continue seeing snowfall until around 7 p.m., according to the weather service.
Emergency dispatchers in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties reported numerous accidents Wednesday morning. Cars overturned, tumbled down embankments and crashed into utility poles.
The roads were mostly clear until around 6 a.m., when snow started falling more heavily just as the Parkway East, Parkway West and other major arteries around Pittsburgh started filling up with commuters, said Steve Cowan, spokesman for PennDOT's District 11, which includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.
That made it difficult for plows to do their job, according to Cowan.
"When people are stuck in traffic, so are our trucks," he said.
PennDOT had their full fleet of plow trucks working, including 68 trucks in Westmoreland and 65 in Allegheny, according to Cowan and Valerie Petersen, spokeswoman for PennDOT's District 12, which includes Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.
About 18 to 20 drivers' vehicles got stuck on the Parkway Center exit ramp from Interstate 376, including Bellevue Council President Tom Fodi. He said his Mini Cooper lost momentum slowing down for traffic and couldn't regain traction on the slippery ramp.
"A wreck at the top of the hill slowed everybody down, but the snow and ice on the ramp meant no one could get any traction," said Fodi, whose commute from Bellevue to Green Tree took nearly two hours.
Reporting live from the Parkway Center off ramp of 376W. Been stuck here for half an hour. Literally cannot go anywhere. It's a sheet of ice and snow on top. Firetrucks and PENNDOT working to pull and push cars out of the medians and side of the road. Stay home! #Pittsburgh— Tom Fodi (@TomFodi) March 21, 2018
PennDOT closed the ramp and one of their trucks tried pushing some of the stuck vehicles up the hill, but at one point the truck started sliding as well, Fodi said. A Pittsburgh fire truck then started attaching tow chains to vehicles and pulling them, he said.
Cowan said the ramp was cleared and reopened by about 9:45 a.m.
A Westmoreland County 911 dispatcher said the county's major roadways, including Routes 22, 380, 780 and 66, were in "horrendous" condition Wednesday morning.
My photographer, who has been driving all morning, said Rt 130 in Greensburg has been the most difficult to drive. You can see there is a plow coming the other way, road are still extremely slippery. @WPXI pic.twitter.com/fbVSEVdog6— Gabriella DeLuca (@GabriellaDeLuca) March 21, 2018
One head-on crash injured two people and closed Route 66 in Hempfield Township. Route 30 in East Huntingdon also was closed because of a crash.
In North Huntingdon, Park Hill Road closed at about 1 p.m. because of weather conditions, township police said. It reopened at about 3 p.m., but police urged motorists to continue to drive with caution.
The snowstorm also forced Norwin School District to cancel a meeting of the school district's Operation Prevention Advisory Committee at 4:30 p.m.
Cathleen Drew, a Drug Enforcement Administration prevention program manager from Washington, D.C., had been scheduled to speak. Drew's presentation has not been rescheduled.
An Allegheny County dispatcher said there were too many accidents to count, but none involved serious injuries.
"Our roads are snow-covered, and the snow is continuing to fall," Petersen said.
PennDOT banned empty trailers, double trailers, motorcycles and other vehicles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike during the storm.
Speed limits were reduced to 45 mph on the turnpike statewide.
Pittsburgh public schools closed for the day.
About 200 other area schools and businesses closed or delayed opening, according to Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV.
Westmoreland County Transit Authority's paratransit system, GO Westmoreland, canceled most of its service on Wednesday due to unsafe road conditions.
The authority issued a notice this morning that the service, which offers subsidized rides to seniors, low-income residents and people with disabilities, would continue to take patients to scheduled dialysis appointments.
All other trips were suspended.
Meanwhile, the authority's fixed-route bus service continued to operate with delays. Some routes were detoured because of the snowy weather conditions.
More than 35 outgoing flights at Pittsburgh International Airport were cancelled, mostly to Northeastern destinations such as New York and Philadelphia that were pummeled by wintry weather, airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said. A similar number of arriving flights also were canceled.
Three of the airport's four runways remained open and flights to destinations south and west of the city were largely unaffected, he said.
"For the latest information (people) should check with their airlines before coming, especially if they are flying north and east of here," he said.
Snow to melt quickly
The combination of heavy snow and relatively high temperatures make for treacherous, slippery roads, National Weather Service forecaster John Darnley said.
Snow will taper off from the northwest later this morning and afternoon. Until then...here is the additional accumulation potential for the Upper Ohio Valley Region. Regional radar mosaic -> https://t.co/bx38TLx2BH . pic.twitter.com/0UnGpNCXiD— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) March 21, 2018
"The roads are going to melt pretty fast and clear, but it's just the heavy, wet snow ... that's created slushy, icy conditions," he said.
24 hour snowfall at NWS Pittsburgh as of 1 AM=1.8 inch. pic.twitter.com/Djgp8Oqwzs— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) March 21, 2018
Spring snowfalls are often wet and heavy because of the amount of moisture in the air, but they don't stick around for long, according to AccuWeather. The Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, which quickly melts falling snow and makes it unlikely that more than a few inches will stick to the ground.
Once the snow stops, it should melt quickly Darnley said.
In the meantime, plows will remain on the road.
"We're going to continue clearing roadways until the storm is over," Cowan said.
Staff writers Rich Cholodofsky, Matthew Medsger, Joe Napsha, Matthew Santoni and Mary Ann Thomas contributed. Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Soolseem.