Winterlike blast hits outskirts of Pittsburgh

Heaviest snow in Westmoreland; Corbett declares Pa. emergency

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The village of Acme in Westmoreland County is 36 miles from Downtown and about 1,200 feet higher in the hills, and on Monday it was nearly 10 inches deeper.

In snow.

A rare late April storm blanketed much of the region with wet, heavy, branch-bending snow, knocking out power for thousands, closing schools and prompting an emergency declaration on a 55-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

But hardly a flake fell in Pittsburgh, where forecasters had warned of up to 4 inches.

The storm prompted Gov. Tom Corbett to declare a statewide disaster emergency to enable state, county and municipal governments to respond to the storm. The declaration authorizes state agencies and county and local officials to bypass bidding procedures on contracts to take care of cleanup efforts.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks said models had shown a blast of cold air from the northwest wrapping into the back end of a nor'easter moving up the Atlantic coast. "We didn't get as much cold air wrapping in as we expected, which pretty much isolated the snowfall to the east," he said.

That might have been just fine for any Pittsburghers who remembered that exactly a month earlier, they were in shorts and sandals and enjoying 81-degree weather.

Not so lucky were residents of Westmoreland County, where more than 27,000 customers were without electricity at the height of the storm as heavy snow and brisk winds sent limbs tumbling onto power lines. Thousands also lost power in Cambria, Fayette and Indiana counties.

"Our power has been blinking on and off all morning," said Karen Nicholson, manager of Resh's General Store in Indian Head, a village in Fayette County that got about a half-foot of juicy snow.

The store hauled a supply of salt and shovels out of storage on Sunday, "but we haven't sold any," she said Monday afternoon. Business was off in the morning, when roads were nasty enough to cancel classes in Connellsville Area School District and about a half-dozen other districts, but customers started drifting in later.

"It's rare," Ms. Nicholson said of the heavy blanketing so deep into spring. "Normally at this time of year we might get a few flurries. I think everyone's coping with it."

Coping with it, and capitalizing on it. Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County announced that it would open for skiing today after 8 inches fell there. The resort will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"One day only," resort spokeswoman Anna Weltz said.

The storm made for hazardous driving throughout the state's midsection.

Shortly before 8 a.m. Monday, the Pennsylvania Turnpike declared a weather emergency and lowered the speed limit to 45 mph between Donegal (Exit 91) and Bedford (Exit 146) with heavy snow falling through that corridor. Snow also covered parts of Interstate 80 east of DuBois and Route 22 in Indiana County at times.

The weather was expected to improve slightly today, with a chance of showers and a high near 50. A full recovery to fair skies and more seasonable temperatures will take until the weekend, the weather service said.

Lest anyone think that an April 23 snowstorm absolutely signals the end of winterlike weather for the season, Mr. Hendricks pointed out that on May 9, 1966, 3.1 inches of snow fell here.

"This is a little late in the season for getting East Coast storms," he said. "But it's not out of the realm of possibility."

region - neigh_westmoreland

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog at Twitter: @pgtraffic. Post-Gazette ski columnist Larry Walsh contributed.


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