Live updates: Hazardous conditions as winter storm blasts region with snow, ice
Pittsburgh geared for heavy ice Wednesday night as a winter storm continued dumping snow, sleet and freezing rain across the region.
Pittsburgh Department of Public Works Director Mike Gable said crews spent the day plowing streets of up to three inches of snow and would continue spreading salt and calcium chloride as temperatures drop below freezing overnight.
"I'm more worried about later tonight when it gets down into the 20s and lower teens," Gable said. "We want to have as many trucks out as possible and keep plowing and salting the streets."
The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for the Pittsburgh metro area. Follow Triblive for updates and check WPXI-TV's website for closings.
Gable said the city would call out additional crews for a night shift and lauded employees for responding. He plans to have at least 80 trucks clearing streets Wednesday night.
City officials last month blamed a failure to clear streets of snow and ice on a shortage of snow plow drivers. Many didn't answer their phones or refused to work over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, they said.
That didn't happen this time, Gable said.
"I think the turnout has been very good," he said. "I think they've done a great job."
The city cautioned drivers and pedestrians to be careful of icy conditions.
National Weather Service data strongly showed how variable the morning's weather was across the region. A Twitter user in Harmony, Butler County, reported 8.5 inches of snow accumulation as of 10 a.m.; In Westmoreland County, spotters in Irwin and New Kensington both reported only half an inch of snow — but Irwin got more than one tenth of an inch of ice. The National Weather Service office in Moon measured 1.5 inches of snow; a spotter outside Bridgeville measured two-tenths of an inch of ice.
Despite the rash of crashes around the region, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties' 911 centers say they have handled a normal level of calls and haven't had to increase staffing.
Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said 911 call volume has been "fairly average for a day like this." While there have been more accidents, most have been minor.
A Westmoreland County 911 supervisor also said the call volume had been typical — even "'normal' for a regular work day."
"We've had a normal call volume, even though most of the calls have been accidents," said the supervisor, who declined to give his name. No staff had to be called in early or held over late so far, though he noted that could change depending on the afternoon weather.
The National Weather Service is now predicting the changeover from rain and sleet back to snow will occur across the area at about 1 p.m.:
We have switched back to snow here at the office as cold air moves back in. Here is the weather history at our office:snow --> sleet --> freezing rain --> sleet --> snow— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) February 7, 2018
Duquesne Light and FirstEnergy are reporting a few thousand power customers without electricity throughout the region, though snow on top of ice could make for more outages later.
Duquesne Light had only about 120 customers without power to the north and south of Pittsburgh. FirstEnergy's portfolio of power companies, including Penn Power and West Penn Power, had about 2,400 in Allegheny County without electricity, mainly in McCandless; nearly 700 out in Washington County and about 240 in Westmoreland County.
West Penn Power spokesman Todd Meyers said the company shouldn't need to bring extra linemen in to make repairs, but has contractors who'd normally be working on maintenance and construction projects on standby to join the regular repair crews if the snow adds to the ice on trees and power lines to bring them down.
"This happens at a good time of day for us; we're fully staffed," he said. "It's not happening on a weekend or overnight when we'd have to call additional people in."
Customers who see a broken or downed wire should assume it is energized and can call 1 888 LIGHTSS to report it.
Another tractor-trailer was jackknifed on the snowy roads, this time in Lancaster Township, Butler County, WPXI-TV reported.
In Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, two people suffered minor injuries in a crash on Melwood Road at about 10:20 a.m., Westmoreland County 911 supervisors said. Two vehicles had crashed into a hillside.
A "tunnel" of warm air along the Allegheny mountains that's keeping half the region under rainy or freezing-rain conditions is expected to move off this afternoon and clear the way for a little more snow — and plummeting temperatures that could make driving conditions even more treacherous, forecasters said.
"We may pick up another 1 or 2 inches, and temperatures are going to be falling to 30," said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Moon. "Between that and the quarter-inch of ice we've gotten; the winds picking up, we may have some issues with power lines, to say nothing of making the evening commute a mess."
Hendricks said that warm air from the south is expected to shift eastward early Wednesday afternoon so that the rain that's been falling and freezing could get a layer of snow on top by the time the winter weather advisory expires around 6 p.m. The temperature will keep falling into the low teens overnight, reducing the effectiveness of road salt and re-freezing some areas that have been reduced to slush.
Meanwhile, areas to the east of the region should be in the clear, with the winter weather advisory for some parts of Westmoreland, Fayette and Indiana counties expiring around 10 a.m.
The Winter Weather Advisory for Fayette Ridges, Indiana, Westmoreland, Westmoreland Ridges has expired. #pawx— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) February 7, 2018
Route 88 in Bethel Park is closed by poles and wires that have fallen, causing electricity and traffic lights in the area to go out.
Route 366 in Upper Burrell has reopened. Three people were injured in the crash .
Despite the weather, most flights in and out of Pittsburgh International Airport were proceeding on time Wednesday, spokesman Bob Kerlik said.
Crews were out pre-treating the runways starting at 2 a.m., and switched over to plows and brushes when snow started falling around 4 a.m. There were some flights cancelled because of weather at other airports like Newark and Detroit.
Flyers are advised to check with their airlines or at flypittsburgh.com to determine if their flights are delayed before they head to the airport, Kerlik said.
The eastbound Pennsylvania Turnpike, closed by an earlier crash, has reopened between New Stanton and Breezewood.
Route 366 is closed in both directions in Upper Burrell due to a multi-vehicle crash at the intersection of Route 366 and Merwin Road, PennDOT spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said.
Traffic in the area between Drennen Road and Greensburg Road will need to find an alternate route.
WPXI-TV reported that Westbound Interstate 70 was closed by a crash in Washington County between Route 40 and Route 221. Traffic should detour via Route 40.
BREAKING NEWS: Interstate 70 Westbound CLOSED. Use Rt 40 as Alternate Route pic.twitter.com/8sb5H47Bul— WPXI Traffic (@WPXITraffic) February 7, 2018
Areas north and west of Pittsburgh will get 6 to 8 inches of snow, while the city and areas south and east will get 2 inches or less, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service.
Here is the updated storm total snowfall map. This includes what has already fallen. pic.twitter.com/7Mkjuu9qLp— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) February 7, 2018
Morgantown jumped six degrees in a half hour with a temp of 42! #wvwx The warm is surging north!— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) February 7, 2018
"We're having warm air surging north at the surface, so we have southerly winds and 42 degrees right now at Morgantown, but northerly winds in Washington and 31 degrees," said Weather Service meteorologist Tom Green.
Warm air near the surface melts falling snow into rain, but if the ground and the surfaces it hits are still cold enough the rain freezes into ice.
PennDOT District 10 is also reducing the speed limit to 45 mph on Interstates 70 and 79 in Westmoreland County. Spokeswoman Valerie Petersen urged drivers to stay home if at all possible, or to use caution on the roads and give plow crews plenty of room to work. Drivers should not try to pass plows as they are spreading salt.
Port Authority of Allegheny County is warning of possible delays on bus and light rail routes. Spokesman Adam Brandolph told WPXI-TV that buses left their garages on schedule but may be delayed or detoured by icy streets or navigating around stuck cars. Crews were manually operating switches on the light-rail lines to reduce their likelihood of freezing.
Outbound rail cars will be experiencing minor delays as we're throwing switches manually to make sure they don't freeze in this weather. Delays may compound on the inbound trips, but shouldn't be more than 5-10 minutes max.— Port Authority PGH (@PGHtransit) February 7, 2018
Route 130 in Unity Township is closed near the township sewage plant by an overturned truck.
Among many fender-benders reported around the region, the pickup truck overturned and struck a utility pole along Pleasant Unity Mutual Road at about 7:30 a.m., a Westmoreland County 911 supervisor said. The driver's status was not immediately available.
PennDOT District 10 has reduced the speed limit to 45 mph on more highways:
• Interstate 80 in Clarion and Jefferson counties
• Interstate 79 in Butler County
• Route 28 in Clarion and Armstrong counties
• Route 22 in Indiana County
As the line between rain and snow crosses Pittsburgh, the coating of snow is turning to slush and ice.
The change over line as of 655am has moved into central parts of Armstrong and Beaver county, southern Butler county in PA. For West Virginia, it has pushed almost through the entire northern WV panhandle. While out in Ohio, snow is north of Jefferson county.— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) February 7, 2018
A jackknifed tractor-trailer has closed both westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Allegheny Valley and Butler Valley interchanges, at mile marker 46.3, state police said.
Police don't believe there are any injuries, but both lanes were closed, said Cpl. Phillip Matson. He urged people to avoid the roads during the storm.
"Don't. Drive. Call off," he said.
The eastbound lanes of the Turnpike may reopen soon after a fatal crash overnight closed the highway from New Stanton to Breezewood, Matson said. Crash reconstruction investigators wrapped up at about 6:30 a.m.
Pittsburgh Operations Director Guy Costa told WPXI-TV that the city had been pre-treating roads all night and was adding hours to the 311 line, which will take calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for service requests. Public Works crews were tapping equipment and personnel usually reserved for maintaining parks.
The transition line from snow to freezing rain was migrating north, the weather service reported.
As officials warn drivers to exercise caution and stay off the roads if possible, even the plow trucks were having issues. WPXI-TV reported a crash between a PennDOT truck and a vehicle on Interstate 70 in Washington County:
PLEASE STAY OFF OF THE ROADS - Allow Crews to Clear the Roads Before You Head Out! Accident Involving Passenger Vehicle and PennDOT Truck on I-70 in Washington County. #wpxi pic.twitter.com/gXlgBcpdds— WPXI Traffic (@WPXITraffic) February 7, 2018
In New Kensington, a plow truck had its bed raised as it was salting and caught an overhead line along Kenneth Avenue, pulling wires down onto the truck at about 6 a.m., a Westmoreland 911 supervisor said. The vehicle was stopped waiting for the lines to be checked and possibly de-energized. West Penn Power confirmed that the line was not a power line about 10 minutes later.
Another weather-related crash sent one person to a hospital around 5:20 a.m. when an SUV overturned on Route 51 in Rostraver, dispatchers said.
Westmoreland County Community College announced a 10 a.m. opening for its Youngwood campus and all other centers.
ALERT! Due to the weather, the Youngwood campus and ALL centers will open at 10 a.m. today.— Westmoreland (@ConnectWCCC) February 7, 2018
Community College of Allegheny County was planning for a noon opening, with all morning classes cancelled.
Due to inclement weather, CCAC will open at noon today with all morning classes cancelled. Please check back for further details.— CCAC (@CCAC) February 7, 2018
Community College of Beaver County had announced a 10 a.m. start Tuesday night.
With the predicted increase in ice accumulation, the National Weather service is warning of potential downed trees and power outages under the weight of ice. West Penn Power and Duquesne Light each have maps for reporting and tracking power outages, but were showing only a handful of customers affected as of about 5:45 Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service says a "tight" line across Allegheny and Westmoreland counties is the difference between lots of snow and lots of rain and ice.
"The northwestern parts of Allegheny County could get close to 7 inches of snow," said meteorologist Alicia Miller. "The southern part of the county may not even get a trace. In fact, it's already changed over to sleet and freezing rain."
There could be a one- to three-tenths of an inch of ice accumulation in parts of Allegheny and up to two-tenths in Westmoreland County, Miller said, though forecasters were still predicting most of the area could change over to rain later in the morning. It could then move back to snow around 2 p.m. she said.
Pittsburgh Public Schools are closed Wednesday, officials announced.
Today, Wednesday, February 7, 2018, Pittsburgh Public Schools are CLOSED. #PPSStayInformed— Pgh Public Schools (@PPSnews) February 7, 2018
As precipitation started to fall — heavy, fast-accumulating snow to the western parts of the region and freezing sleet and rain to the east — PennDOT lowered speed limits on many local roadways.
• Interstates 79, 279, 376 and 579
• Routes 22 and 30 in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties
• Route 28
• Route 119
PennDOT also will not open the HOV lanes along the Parkway North in order to concentrate its salting and plowing resources on the main travel lanes.
Snow was starting to accumulate along many area roadways, especially in Allegheny County.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @msantoni.