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Western Pennsylvania prepares as big snowstorm begins

| Friday, Feb. 5, 2010

Predictions of heavy snow are certain to mean at least a couple things in Western Pennsylvania: treacherous road conditions, and a rush on bread, milk and sidewalk salt.

"For the city, it's going to be earth-shattering," Laura Romano, professional contractor manager at Home Depot in East Liberty, said this morning. "Stores are probably running out as we speak."

The region is under a winter storm warning until 6 p.m. Saturday with an expected 4 to 8 inches of snow by Saturday morning. In all, the storm could drop 8 to 12 inches on the region by Sunday, said Lee Hendricks, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon.

About an inch is expected by this afternoon's rush hour, with increased snowfall forecast to hit after 7 p.m., Hendricks said.

Bins of salt, ice melt and calcium chloride were stacked near the front door of the Home Depot on North Highland Avenue, along with snow shovels and windshield de-icer. Customer traffic was mostly contractors before 8 a.m. today, although Romano expected a crush of homeowners later in the day.

"We won't run out of salt," she said. "I've got another truck coming in."

That will add 450 bags to the 1,800 already on hand, Romano said. The store has another 1,800 bags combined of ice melt and calcium chloride.

"We're good to go here," Romano said.

The expected snowfall caused several school districts to issue early dismissals and some events to be canceled or postponed.

The Meadows Racetrack and Casino postponed auditions tomorrow for jobs as table-games dealers. Auditions will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Holiday Inn Washington-Meadow Lands in North Strabane.

HOV lanes along the Parkway North closed after this morning's rush hour in order to allow road crews to focus winter maintenance efforts on other roadways, PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said. The HOV lanes will reopen Monday morning.

PennDOT reminded motorists to check www.511pa.com or call 511 from any phone to check conditions on major roadways this weekend.

State police, on the other hand, urged residents to refrain from calling their stations in the region this weekend with travel-related questions.

"We would greatly appreciate that, because our phones do get bombarded, unfortunately, during that time," said Trooper Stephen Limani, spokesman for the Greensburg barracks. "Our lines do get tied up, and it's very difficult for dispatchers to do their jobs and try to accommodate all of the people who are calling."

Pittsburgh police also expect to be busy responding to accidents and quality-of-life calls, spokeswoman Diane Richard said.

That will leave little time for police to ramp up enforcement of new no-sledding rules at Frick and Schenley parks, she said.

"Hopefully, the parents will accompany and monitor their children's safety during this type of outdoor activity," Richard said.

Some school districts across the region have begun issuing early dismissals. A list of closings can be found www.thepittsburghchannel.com, the Web site of Tribune-Review news partner WTAE-TV.

The state Department of Health has canceled H1N1 vaccine clinics scheduled for Saturday.

The clinics, which were planned at Pennsylvania's 60 state health centers, will not be rescheduled.

Individuals interested in receiving the H1N1 vaccine can call 1-877-PA HEALTH or visit www.H1N1inPA.com for more information.

The National Aviary on the North Side will be closed Saturday. The aviary will re-open at noon on Sunday. Details: 412-323-7235 or www.aviary.org .

The Community College of Allegheny County will close at 3 p.m. today because of the predicted snowstorm.

CCAC officials said all campuses and centers, including all offices and classes, will remain closed through Saturday. Nursing students should not report for clinicals.

CCAC is expected to resume a normal schedule on Sunday. Check www.ccac.edu or the campus hot lines for updates.

Duquesne University officials said its law school continuing legal education seminar scheduled for Saturday was canceled. For information regarding rescheduling, call 412-396-6282.

Additional Information:

Flights canceled

With a major snowstorm expected to hit the mid-Atlantic, Southwest Airlines is canceling flights at three airports starting this afternoon.

Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan said more than 100 flights will be canceled at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a Southwest hub. The airline also is canceling flights at Dulles International and Philadelphia International.

Planes will stop taking off around 2 p.m. Friday and resume Sunday morning if the weather improves.

Flaningan says Southwest customers with reservations will be able to reschedule their trips without paying fees and without any fare hikes. Customers have 14 days to book new flights.

Pittsburgh International Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny did not immediately return messages about possible delays or cancellations here.

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