Snow squalls cause 12-vehicle crash on I-79

Low visibility caused several crashes in Washington County, although no serious injuries were reported

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A fierce snow squall that caused whiteout conditions shortly before noon Thursday prompted a 12-vehicle crash on Interstate 79 that blocked the northbound lanes near the Houston exit.

The blinding snowstorms that swept through Western Pennsylvania also caused a myriad of other crashes across Washington County, although no serious injuries were reported.

The chain-reaction crash on I-79 north between Racetrack Road and Houston exits at 11:46 a.m. clogged the highway and took more than two hours to clear.

State police said a utility truck was unable to stop for other slowing traffic and crashed into a tractor-trailer and car. Three people suffered moderate injuries and were transported by ambulance to area hospitals for treatment, police said.

“It could’ve been worse,” North Strabane fire Capt. Chad Brewer said, adding the highway reopened about 2 p.m. “Luckily, we didn’t have serious injuries.”

Another crash quickly followed after on the highway’s southbound lanes. Around the same time, emergency dispatchers also reported crashes on S Bridge Road in South Franklin Township and Lone Pine Road in Amwell Township.

The snow squall was caused by a strong upper level disturbance that mixed with the arctic front rolling through the area, according to meteorologist Fred McMullen of the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh. The snow, combined with gusty winds, caused problems across the area, but especially on the highway in North Strabane.

“It was a whiteout,” McMullen said. “It was zero visibility. They probably couldn’t see 100 yards in front of them.”

He reported similar problems on interstates 80 and 79 near Erie. McMullen added that the situation could’ve been even worse if not for the fact that the majority of Lake Erie is frozen, which prevent lake-effect snow bands from forming.

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