Wintry weather unleashed on region

Snow, sleet, ice, rain, hail make for treacherous travel

December 26, 2012
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Several vehicles are stuck as others slip and slide around them on Route 19 near the entrance to Trinity Point and Strabane Square in South Strabane Township as motorists struggled to get through the intersection. Severe weather dumped several inches of snow in the area in a short period of time creating havoc for motorists Wednesday morning. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
John Bell, a retired Washington police officer, clears the sidewalk around his home with his snowblower along North Avenue in East Washington Wednesday morning. Order a Print

Emergency scanners in Washington County were chattering Wednesday because of a slew of minor crashes reported throughout the area as motorists encountered a mix of rain, sleet and snow.

Thankfully no major injuries had been reported as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a 911 dispatcher. Earlier, the National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning for much of Western and northern Pennsylvania through 6 a.m. today, saying some areas could see two to three inches of snow fall in an hour.

“It’s going to be a mess,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, Hendricks said Washington County could expect a total of two to four inches of snow with some additional ice accumulation overnight. The snow could turn to ice because of freezing drizzle expected to occur this morning, he said. Hendricks said the forecast for Greene County, which had been under a winter weather advisory, was only slightly better than its northern neighbors with mostly freezing rain and sleet with the possibility of one to three inches of snow.

Many Greene County motorists apparently heeded the weather warnings and drove carefully or stayed off the roads.

A dispatcher at Greene County 911 said the center heard about several fender-benders, though for most of the day it was fairly quiet. “People must have used some common sense” and stayed off the roads, he said.

In Waynesburg, roads became slippery during the periods of heavy precipitation, borough police Chief Tim Hawfield said. “It seemed to come in waves.”

The roads became slippery after snowfalls about 10 a.m. and again shortly after noon.

“With the borderline temperatures, it seemed to change back and forth, from snow to slush and from slush to snow,” Hawfield said.

The borough had one crash about noon at Richhill and First streets, but it was not weather-related and resulted in no injuries, he said.

State police at the Waynesburg barracks reported several minor crashes during the day.

As expected, the storm kept Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employees hopping.

“Our drivers will be working 12-hour shifts throughout the weather event as long as necessary to keep the roads passable,” said Jay Ofsanik, safety press officer for PennDOT’s District 12.

All 62 PennDOT trucks in Washington County were plowing and salting Wednesday as were the 28 trucks that serve Greene County, he said.

“Anytime we have an event, all of our trucks hit the road,” Ofsanik said.

Washington City Councilman Matt Staniszewski, who serves as public works director, said Wednesday his crew was working to clear more than 100 linear miles of roadway. To provide 24-hour coverage, the eight-person crew split into two groups that worked 12-hour shifts while using the city’s four trucks.

“We remind motorists as well as residents to please remain patient,” he said. “We’re going the best job we can with the resources we do have.”

Staniszewski said crews got the jump on the storm by pretreating roads prior to the snowfall.

“Our salt supply is full,” he said. “We actually have additional orders in anticipation of any additional snow events.”

Locally, several high school basketball games scheduled for Wednesday were postponed because of weather, including the Charleroi tournament, which pushed its three boys basketball games to today.

Across the commonwealth, all nonessential state employees were permitted to leave two hours early Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Turnpike saw a 45 mph speed limit restriction placed on the nearly 300-mile stretch of highway from the Blue Mountain Interchange to the Morgantown Interchange. Additionally, trucks pulling double or empty trailers were banned from traveling the 86-mile stretch of the turnpike from New Stanton to Breezewood.

Andy McNeil has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2011 as a general assignment reporter. He covers courts and education, and also serves as a photographer and videographer. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, with a degree in English; Duquense University with a post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, and Point Park University with a graduate degree in journalism and mass communication.

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Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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