Afternoon snowfall makes traveling tricky in region
The snow comes down in this view of Forbes Ave. from Smithfield Street.
A woman left a "skating" pattern in the fresh snow in the Allegheny County Courthouse Friday morning.
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Wrong day. Wrong time. Wrong temperature.
That's likely what turned David Russell's 40-minute drive home Friday afternoon into a 41/2-hour crawl.
Traveling from West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield to Steubenville, Ohio, his four-wheel drive Blazer was just one of the many vehicles caught in the snowy gridlock.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a storm coated the region with about 3 to 4 inches of snow, as forecast. The timing couldn't have been worse, according to the National Weather Service.
Friday afternoon's wintry problems were compounded because motorists often try to beat storms rather than wait them out. And with temperatures in the mid-teens Friday, salt would have taken longer to melt snow, allowing snow to accumulate more quickly.
"You just sit there and grin and bear it with the others, and you just be kind and be courteous," Mr. Russell, 52, said.
He said he and his son, Anthony, 27, passed the time by "waving at pretty women" in other cars and listening to the radio for music and weather and road condition updates.
During the commute, the Russells saw at least 10 wrecks and 20 to 30 stranded drivers but not a single snow plow or salt truck.
When he finally made it home, Mr. Russell said, he had one thing on his mind: a hot cup of coffee.
He was in good -- albeit slow-moving -- company.
Traffic barely crept along the Parkway West toward Green Tree early Friday afternoon, where the highway was jammed in both directions. Jams also were reported on the parkway just west of Interstate 79 and around Robinson Town Centre.
Drivers trying to reach the Fort Pitt Bridge from the Parkway East and the Fort Duquesne Bridge also found themselves barely moving.
Port Authority buses were 60 to 90 minutes behind schedule.
Traffic in the city also slowed to a crawl Friday afternoon. A five-block drive along Fifth Avenue in Oakland took 40 minutes.
Rob Kaczorowski, director of public works for the city, didn't have a firm answer for why traffic was so acutely bad. But he believed the timing of the snow -- which accumulated just before the Friday afternoon rush hour -- had something to do with it.
"Any type of weather impacts traffic in the city," he said. "Obviously, the amount of snow that fell during the day ... is playing into the traffic ... we have now."
Traffic backups on local stretches of interstate made it difficult to serve certain neighborhoods quickly, he said.
Clearing and salting 1,800 lane miles with the city's 60 pieces of snow-removing equipment was anticipated to take all night, Mr. Kaczorowski said. If the storm slowed down Friday evening, he said, most roads should be clear by 6 a.m. today.
Mr. Kaczorowski added that the public should not call 311 or inquire about road-clearing efforts until 24 hours after the storm.
The state Department of Transportation sent out a fleet of about 70 to 80 trucks to pre-treat roads in Allegheny County before the storm began and will be out as long as is necessary to clear roadways, PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said.
As for Friday afternoon, he said, "As soon as you have that kind of snow and the parkway congests, the traffic cant get through then neither can our trucks."
Steve Chizmar, a PennDOT spokesman, characterized it as a "widespread storm, impacting the entire state" and said the transportation agency had 2,200 trucks available, with salt and anti-skid material in good supply.
For the Pittsburgh region, scattered snow showers today are expected to accumulate less than an inch of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Freezing rain is expected Sunday night into Monday, when it should turn to rain.
Higher elevations in Westmoreland and Fayette counties are under a winter storm warning through 7 p.m. today, where 4 to 6 inches of snow may fall.
Preston and Tucker counties in West Virginia and Garrett County, Md., also are in the warning area.
First Published January 26, 2013 12:00 am