Less than two weeks in, February '10 already the snowiest ever
Pittsburghers are enduring the snowiest February on record, and there's still 17 days to go until March.
There has been 29.9 inches of snow so far this month — a depth that buries the old February record of 25.3 inches set in 2002-03, said John Darnley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon.
"It's significant," Darnley said of last weekend's roughly 21-inch snowfall. "You had all the right weather features developing right over us with moisture involved. For all those indices to come into place at once is unusual."
An additional 7.9 inches of snow fell from Tuesday to Wednesday, records show.
Darnley said it is unlikely Pittsburgh will break the record of 78.5 inches set in 1913-14 for the snowiest winter. So far, about 57.8 inches of snow have accumulated this winter, he said.
Of concern now is what will happen when the snow melts.
Darnley said an 18-inch sample of snow pack measured in Moon contains about 3 inches of water. If that amount melted all at once, it could cause "moderate flooding" in the Pittsburgh region.
"You get three inches of rain and you've got problems," he said.
High temperatures are forecast to remain at or below freezing through Wednesday.
ABOUT 400 STILL WITHOUT POWER
Duquesne Light has made significant progress in storm restoration today, reducing the number of affected customers to 400 as of 5 p.m. Thursday. Restoration estimates remain that customers in the city of Pittsburgh and the South Hills should see restoration by Thursday night. Western Allegheny county and Beaver county should be restored by Friday night.
During the course of this week's snow, the company has received: 3,400 downed wire reports; 1,200 reports of downed trees or tree limbs; 200 reports of damaged or downed poles; 67,000 trouble calls into the company call center
About 2,100 Allegheny Power customers in Allegheny County are without power, according to the company's Web site. Service is expected to be restored by Sunday, according to the utility.
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said "ground zero" for power outages in his district is the Elizabeth-Forward area, which he planned to visit Thursday evening. He said Allegheny Energy has hundreds of repair crew members in the Elizabeth area trying to restore power, but the terrain is making it difficult.
"Many of these lines are in the woods, and they cannot get to them," he said.
SEEKING FEDERAL HELP
At least one positive could come from the record snowfalls that inundated Western Pennsylvania.
Federal disaster assistance rules require counties to experience "record or near-record" snowfalls before they can apply for federal disaster recovery dollars, said Murphy.
The money would reimburse municipalities for clean-up costs, including those incurred when they hired outside contractors to haul away snow, bolster road salt supplies and paid overtime to exhausted plow truck operators.
"I believe we're at this level, but we have to make sure," he said Thursday during a 50-minute conference call with representatives from about 70 Allegheny and Westmoreland county municipalities in his district. "If we didn't face that we couldn't proceed."
To qualify for help, Murphy said President Barack Obama must declare the record snowfall a disaster. He hasn't done that, yet.
"Rather than give us an immediate ruling on whether this is a qualifying disaster, they're waiting," Murphy said.
Murphy stressed there are "no immediate funding streams available" to municipalities, so they must cover the costs for now.
His office is gathering unofficial damage and clean-up cost estimates from dozens of municipalities in hopes of submitting a compelling assistance application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The costs must meet certain thresholds, specified by law, to qualify for financial assistance. He urged local leaders to make their needs known.
The next concern is flooding.
"We are concerned here that if the snow melts too fast flooding will be a problem," Murphy said.
MAJOR HIGHWAYS REOPENED
Gov. Ed Rendell has ordered Interstate 78 to be reopened this afternoon, more than 24 hours after blizzard-like conditions in the southeastern part of the state halted traffic on several highways.
The Schuylkill Expressway and Interstates 476, 676 and 176 were all reopened at 5 a.m. this morning; State Route 581 and Interstates 81 and 83 both reopened later this morning. Rendell had ordered the highways closed yesterday so PennDOT crews could deal with the rapidly-falling snow and high winds in the area.
Though a 45-mph speed limit and restrictions on empty trailers, double trailers and overheight or overweight vehicles were lifted on other interstates, it remains in effect for I-78, PennDOT officials said.
The closures and restrictions had halted most truck shipments to or through the eastern half of the state, leaving many drivers stranded at the side of the road until conditions improved, said Ron Uriah, safety director for Strip District-based Pitt Ohio Express.
"We're not too far from Carlisle, and if you weren't in that truck stop by noon the day before, you couldn't get in," said James Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association.
BLOOD DONORS NEEDED
The Central Blood Bank, the region's largest blood center servicing 40 area hospitals, is urging area donors to give blood over the next week to help support the community blood supply. Because of the severe winter weather, the blood bank was unable to collect more than 1,200 units to support community blood needs. Inventory levels, particularly "O" type red blood cells and platelets, have been significantly reduced.
"We understand that this is a challenging time for many local residents," said Kent Oestreich, Chief Operating Officer of the Central Blood Bank. "We would ask our donors to reschedule canceled appointments and for all other eligible donors to make an appointment or just walk-in because the need for blood remains constant."
To assist those volunteer blood donors interested in donating over the next week, a number of Central Blood Bank community donor centers have extended their days of operation. For a listing of locations and hours of operation for all Central Blood Bank community donor centers, please visit centralbloodbank.org .
Individuals of all blood types eligible to donate are urged to call Central Blood Bank at 1-866-DONORS-1 (1-866-366-6771). Donors can also log on to centralbloodbank.org to schedule an appointment, or visit one of the various community donor centers or frequent daily mobile blood drives.
WARMING SHELTERS REMAIN OPEN
Allegheny County still has warming shelters open in Baldwin, Bethel Park, Collier, North Braddock, North Fayette, Scott and Upper St. Clair. Details can be found at alleghenycounty.us .
Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report.