Snowstorm piles it on Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania

Causes power outages, makes travel hazardous through region

Ideally, you're sitting in the comfort of your home right now, reading your favorite newspaper with the heater working and the refrigerator stocked.

And, if you're following the advice of local authorities, you're just going to hunker down and stay put.

Because of the snowstorm that blanketed the region with a projected 8 to 12 inches during the night, getting around today could be complicated at best and, at its worst, dangerous. A winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service for Western Pennsylvania remains in effect through 6 tonight. Areas to the south and east of the city were expected to be hit hardest.

"It's coming down thick, and we're going to get it all night," said Dave Bowers, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, Centre County. "If you do decide to go out, you're going to have a lot to dig out of."

Early this morning the Port Authority announced it would offer limited service today because of continuing problems with road conditions. Read more details about the restricted service.

Duquesne Light this morning was reporting some 45,550 customers without power today due to the storm. Most of the outages were scattered throughout Allegheny and Beaver counties with no estimated times for restoration.

The snow started falling Downtown just after noon and kept coming steadily into the evening. Four inches of snow was reported at Pittsburgh International Airport before 8 p.m.

Fortunately, by that time, most residents of the region were safely off the slippery streets. Schools, businesses and many shops closed early, giving commuters a chance to get home, and many activities throughout the region last night were canceled or postponed.

Public works crews took to the streets with everything they had last night, getting out in front of the snow with salt and then plowing the roadways clear throughout the night.

"We're always bracing for the worst," PennDOT District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi said.

"We have 64 trucks out on the road right now, full crews, full capacity, going full throttle. We're going to go 24/7 as long as it's needed. We'll probably be going all weekend."

As the snow continued to fall into the evening, PennDOT several roads and highways had to be closed due to snow and weather-related accidents.

• The Parkway West inbound was closed just past the Carnegie on-ramp due to a crash involving several cars.

• Going outbound, toward the airport, some lanes of the Parkway West were closed between the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the Parkway Center off-ramp.

• The right lane of the Parkway North was closed near the McKnight Road exit due to an accident.

• Route 19 was closed in both directions between McKnight Road and Babcock Boulevard because of several crashes.

The speed limit also was temporarily reduced to 45 mph on all interstate highways in Allegheny County.

As bad as it was, it probably could have been worse. Mr. Struzzi said there were a number of factors that worked in the public's favor as far as this storm was concerned.

"The temperatures are warm enough so that the snow is melting when it hits," he said. "And the heavy, wet snow is more conducive to plowing. It's actually the kind of weather that we prefer, and we prefer that it all comes at once like this."

Also of benefit was the advance notice and the fact that the worst of the storm didn't hit until after rush hour Friday.

"From PennDOT's perspective," Mr. Struzzi said, "this is the best kind of storm we could get."

"This storm has been reasonably well-behaved," Mr. Bowers said last night. "But as we get later into the night, the temperatures will drop and the snow will get drier."

Forecasters said the heavy snow probably will taper off by mid-morning, reduced to flurries by noon. Still, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard said people would be best to stay home today if they could.

"We're hoping that if the weather gets real bad and the streets get real bad, people will limit themselves going out," she said.

There were numerous traffic accidents Friday night as daring drivers found themselves losing control on the roadways.

Joe Baron, the Beaver County dispatch supervisor, said the weather wasn't to blame so much as "stupid people. ... They're sliding off the road because they're too stupid to listen to the radio to stay home."

Allegheny County Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said it was business as usual at the airport Friday night, with snow removal beginning at about 4 p.m. and continuing into the night. She said there were no reports of cancellations or other flights being diverted to Pittsburgh and only the most minor of delays.

"We've had about 75 arrivals and 50 to 60 departures and everything is coming in and going out," she said at 7:30 p.m. "It's nothing too horrific yet."

But Greyhound Lines bus service between many cities in the storm area was canceled, including routes linking Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Washington and New York City.

The snow was so bad that the Mt. Lebanon School District canceled its skiing trip.

Venture Outdoors moved its Members Day celebration to later in the day today at South Park. And the hikers were encouraged to bring snowshoes.

Dan Majors: or 412-263-1456. Moriah Balingit: or 412-263-2533. First Published February 6, 2010 5:00 AM


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