T service restored after overnight ice freezes up morning service

A winter storm spewing snow, sleet and freezing rain slickened roads and crippled service on the Port Authority's Light Rail Transit system this morning.

The storm coated everything with a layer of ice in and around Pittsburgh while dumping 6 inches or more of snow on parts of Butler County. It caused speed limits to be reduced to 45 mph on highways and forced cancellations or delays for schools and other activities.

More than 60 flights into and out of Pittsburgh International Airport were canceled and others were delayed.

By late morning, most of the bad weather had departed and normal speed limits were restored. But problems lingered on the iced T, with overhead power lines coated in thick ice.

Port Authority was able to start limited service on the Red Line by 6:30 a.m. but the Blue Line remained closed until 10:45 a.m., when limited service was restored on the Blue Line-south Hills village route. Service throughout the rail system was restored by 11:30 a.m., but riders were told to expect 10- to 15-minute delays until full schedules are restored.

Spokesman Jim Ritchie said despite the deployment of sleet cutting vehicles overnight on the T, "ultimately, ice buildup won." Seven vehicles become stuck on the line and two overhead wires came down before the scheduled start of service.

PennDOT did not open the Parkway North HOV lanes for the morning rush to allow crews to focus on clearing the mainline. But with many drivers staying home, traffic was generally brisk on the parkway and other major inbound routes to Pittsburgh.

Ice and snow brought down trees on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the eastern part of the state, between Morgantown, Pa., and Valley Forge, some blocking the right lanes, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

A fatal crash involving three tractor-trailers closed the turnpike in both directions between Harrisburg West (Exit 242) and Gettysburg Pike (Exit 236). The crash occurred about 11 p.m. Tuesday and the roadway remained closed until early this afternoon.

About 2 inches of snow fell overnight around Pittsburgh, and nearly an inch of sleet and freezing rain that accumulated on top of that caused "very slick conditions" this morning, said John Darnley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, based in Moon.

The weather service reported snowfall totals in Allegheny County ranging from 1.5 inches in the city to 5.1 inches at its offices in Moon. In Butler County, 7.5 inches fell north of Butler and 6.5 inches in Cranberry. Three inches were reported in Eighty Four in Washington County. Up to 10 inches fell in Clarion County, according to the weather service. Eight inches piled up in Monaca, Karns City and Freeport, while 7 inches fell in Kittanning.

The weather service said 0.25 inches of ice was reported in Oakmont, Mount Washington and Lawrenceville. The village of Ruff Creek in northern Greene County had 0.50 inches of ice.

At least two large water main breaks were reported overnight: In Mt. Lebanon, pavement in the 300 block of McCully Street buckled and separated. And in Wilkinsburg, a sinkhole was reported at Whitney Avenue and Hay Street at the site of a break.

In a tweet from Allegheny County, officials said ice was falling from the roof of the Allegheny County Courthouse.

West Penn Power reported 805 customers without electricity in Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties and a handful out in Allegheny and Butler. Statewide, more than 78,000 customers were out, mostly in areas south and east of Harrisburg.

Duquesne Light reported 350 customers out, 250 of them in Ross.

At a briefing this afternoon, Gov. Tom Corbett said the storm "has had a direct impact all across the state of Pennsylvania" but that he has not declared a state of emergency.

As of noon, more than 750,000 customers were without power, most of them customers of PECO in southeast Pennsylvania. Mr. Corbett said the company has 180 of its crews and contractor crews in the field and has asked electric providers in neighboring states to send another 500 crews.

"People are going to have to have some patience," he said, because crews must await removal of downed trees from roads and power lines before restoring power.

He urged motorists to be careful overnight and Thursday morning as temperatures were expected to plunge below freezing.

Nearly 700 Pennsylvania National Guard troops were called up and placed on standby last night, but were not deployed, Mr. Corbett said.

Among more than 2,500 flight cancellations in the U.S. were 25 arrivals and 38 departures at Pittsburgh International Airport, according to FlightStats.com. Hardest-hit airports were in Boston, the New York City area, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. First Published February 5, 2014 5:55 AM

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