Pittsburgh says road crews are ready for expected overnight storm

At a news conference to introduce Pittsburgh’s new director of public works, Mike Gable said his crews are ready for a mix of ice, snow and freezing rain headed for the area tonight.

“I don’t see it as a big storm. I think it’s been a little hyped up right now,” said Mr. Gable, a longtime Pittsburgh public works employee who spent the past year working as deputy director of public works for Allegheny County. Mayor Bill Peduto announced his choice as public works director for the city last week.

“Our weather service is telling us it’s 1 to 3 inches starting anywhere between 6 and 9 this evening and ending at 3 o’clock in the morning and maybe turning into rain,” he said.

City says it's ready to deal with winter storm

Mike Gable, acting head of the Public Works Department, said his crews are ready for a mix of ice, snow and freezing rain headed for the area tonight. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/4/2014)

Mr. Gable, an acting director whose appointment is pending City Council approval, said 60 vehicles are ready to hit the road and added that though salt has been in short supply as winter drags on and suppliers ration their output, the city has about 4,000 tons on hand and is receiving new deliveries daily. The city normally uses about 1,000 tons of salt per inch of snow.

“We don’t see it as the long duration of a storm that’s been predicted,” he said. The department will monitor the weather and adjust accordingly. “Right now we’re feeling comfortable that it’s a normal 1-to-3-inch storm that we can handle very well.”

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties and everyone north of Pittsburgh. The warning takes effect at 7 p.m. and continues to 1 p.m. Wednesday. Greene and western Fayette counties will be under a winter weather advisory for the same time. Those are the only two places in Pennsylvania not under winter storm warnings.

Meteorologist Fred McMullen said the precipitation will begin before midnight and continue through the morning on Wednesday. It will be a wintry mix, with the possibility of icing that could bring down smaller tree branches, he said.

"We're not expecting widespread power outages," he said. "The main impact will be on travel."

The forecast calls for as much as a quarter-inch of ice and 3 to 7 inches of snow, with the heaviest accumulations north of Pittsburgh.

Port Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said crews will work overnight to keep overhead lines on the Light Rail Transit system from icing over if sleet or freezing rain falls. Light rail vehicles will make trips after the end of service hours, and the first LRVs out for the morning commute will be equipped with sleet cutter pantographs that are designed to scrape ice from the wires to preserve the flow of electricity to the vehicles, she said.

In Shaler, officials issued a notice to residents today that crews would be conserving salt, likely for the rest of the winter, because of dwindling stockpiles. The notice said crews will "attempt to salt hills, intersections and curves" and reduce salting of flat, straight stretches of road.

Bethel Park's director of community services, Jerry Duke, said the municipality's supply of salt is "getting pretty tight."

"We're getting some shipments. But the way this winter is going, as soon as we get it in, it's going right back out," Mr. Duke said. The municipality has starting cutting into a reserve supply it keeps and will use anti-skid material fighting tonight's storm to stretch the salt supply. Bethel Park hasn't reached the point where it would ration salt like Shaler is doing, he said.

"This has been one doozy of a winter," he said.

Monroeville manager Tim Little said the town has an adequate supply for now but is waiting on completion of a 2,000-ton shipment it ordered last week. Only a few hundred tons had arrived as of this morning, he said. "Obviously, the rest of that tonnage has to be delivered for us to be OK as the weeks move on," he said.

Robinson has “an adequate supply right now,” township manager Jeff Silka said. “We’re confident.”

After a low in the mid-20s tonight and a high around freezing on Wednesday, temperatures will fall into the teens on Wednesday night and barely breach the 20s on Thursday.

Any snowfall will add to a seasonal total that as of Saturday was running 20 inches above the normal amount.

This morning, the weather service also issued a flood watch for parts of Ohio, West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. The watch area includes Washington, Greene and Fayette counties. Heavy rain and snow melt will increase the risk of ice jam flooding on streams and creeks, it said.

Gov. Tom Corbett has directed PennDOT to temporarily waive restrictions on commercial drivers who haul road salt, extending the time they can drive without taking a rest break from 11 hours to 14 hours.

“Forecasts are calling for more storms in the next few days, and we want to take steps now to ensure that salt supplies are adequate to meet the mission to keep drivers moving,” PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in a news release.

An exemption also was granted to the rules limiting the number of hours a driver can work in a seven- or eight-day period. An earlier waiver was granted to haulers of home heating fuel.

The latest watches, warnings and advisories are available at the National Weather Service website. Visit the Post-Gazette's weather page for the current conditions and forecast.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909. First Published February 4, 2014 7:50 AM

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