Drivers slosh through mess left by sleet and rain

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Drivers slipped, slopped and slid across icy, slick roadways Friday night, causing dozens of accidents that knocked down utility poles and power lines, overturned cars, closed some roads and sent several injured drivers to area hospitals, according to Allegheny County officials.

In a storm that swept across the Great Lakes and stalled over southwestern Pennsylvania, rain turned to sleet, freezing rain and then to snow in the mid-afternoon — just as many local drivers tried to beat an early retreat from the office. With PennDOT crews out in full force for the duration of the storm, most highways and secondary roads were merely wet with a few slushy spots by late evening.

Transportation officials warned early morning drivers to look out for black ice, however.

“Motorists need to be aware there are some slick conditions out there and use caution when driving,” especially on the bridges, overpasses and ramps that tend to freeze first, said PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan Friday night. “Motorists need to obviously take caution when driving, but our crews will be out round the clock until the end of the storm.”

Meteorologist Brad Rehak of the National Weather Service in Moon said the storm pushed off to the east overnight, leaving the area with a mostly cloudy day and a high of 28 today, a low of 15 tonight, and the possibility of snow changing to sleet by Sunday evening, with a high of 32 and little chance of additional shoveling.

“Right now it looks like the system is going to be light,” Mr. Rehak said. “We’re not calling for any accumulation.”

Even without much accumulation, the wintry mix caused roadway chaos across Allegheny County for several hours Friday night, with several dozen drivers crashing into houses, roadway barriers, walls, ditches and other vehicles, according to county officials.

In all, nearly 30 car accidents were reported between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.

At least four cars flipped over, temporarily trapping their drivers and injuring several people badly enough for them to be sent to local hospitals, according to county police who could not specify how many people were injured or which accidents they were involved in.

Several utility poles were knocked down by sliding cars, ripping down live electric lines in several cases. One such accident closed streets in Reserve around Allen Drive and Mount Troy Road, while Becks Run Road was closed because of icy conditions and the 1400 block of North State Street in Clairton was closed temporarily because of a vehicle that rolled over.

After focusing on primary roads during the storm, Pittsburgh public works director Rob Kaczorowski said city crews will focus on secondary routes this morning.

"Most of our equipment will be in there touching those up," he said Friday night. "If the snow holds up like they say it will, it will give us a chance to catch up and we'll be in pretty good shape by [this] morning."

A winter weather advisory was in effect all day for Western Pennsylvania, including areas east of Pittsburgh that were not previously included. The original forecast called for 2 to 5 inches of accumulation, but was later revised to 4 to 6 inches because the storm tracked farther south than previously expected.

Around the region, some employees headed into afternoon rush hour a little earlier than usual, hoping to beat the freeze, and stoked traffic as a result.

In at least one case, they left early at the urging of their employer. Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh took over the building-wide intercom at the diocese’s Downtown headquarters at around 3:45 p.m. and urged staff members to leave as soon as possible for safety reasons, according to a spokesperson for the diocese. He led a brief prayer for safe travel.



Lexi Belculfine contributed. First Published December 6, 2013 7:17 AM

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