Biggest snow of season on the way?

February 28, 2014
A pickup truck travels along Jefferson Avenue in Washington loaded with sacks of ice-melting material. The driver is prepared for the upcoming storm expected to hit Washington County Sunday night into Monday. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

While Southwestern Pennsylvania likely won’t experience another “Snowmageddon” this weekend, meteorologists said Washington and Greene counties could be blanketed with up to a foot of snow by Monday.

Lee Hendricks, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, predicts Sunday will bring a light snowfall of one to two inches. He said the heaviest amount of snow – at least six inches – will arrive overnight Sunday and continue into Monday morning.

“It’s not a matter of ‘Will it hit us?’ It’s a matter of figuring out exactly how bad it’s going to hit us,” Hendricks said.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said if weather predictions are accurate, Monday’s snow should bring more of a “plowing snow” than a “skidding snow” – meaning PennDOT would use less anti-skid treatment and salt than it would in the event of an ice storm.

Petersen said PennDOT is getting by just fine with its salt stockpiles. PennDOT has 14 stockpiles between Washington and Greene counties, and any of those can be tapped when another is getting low.

Many municipalities, however, aren’t so lucky. Peter Overcashier, director of public works for Peters Township, said the township currently has just 260 tons of salt, when ideally, he’d like to have 500 tons or more.

Overcashier said salt orders are so backed up that the township’s supplier, Cargill Salt, owes the township 900 tons of salt.

“This problem started a month ago and everybody kept hoping they were going to catch up to the demand, and they haven’t,” Overcashier said. “We’re going to have to do some salting during the storm, but it’s going to be very, very limited.”

Ken Westcott, Washington councilman and public works director, said the brief reprieve from the snow and frigid temperatures allowed the city to restock its salt supplies. The city used about 70 percent of its stock supply since January.

“We are back to full capacity on salt,” Westcott said, adding that the city currently has 150 tons. “We have plenty to cover the potential storm … We don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but we’re prepared one way or another.”

In Greene County, Cumberland Township Supervisor Jim Sokol said the township also is ready for the coming storm. The township has about 250 tons of cinders on hand, which should be enough to get through the storm.

However, the township’s supply of road cinders is getting low, he said. “It’s the lowest I have ever seen it,” Sokol said. “I’ve been here for 16 years, and I’ve never seen it get this low.”

The township contacted its supplier for additional cinders but received only a portion of what it requested. It also recently purchased cinders from German Township, Fayette County, which began using a different type of road material, he said.

The township also should have enough salt for the storm. So far, the township is only “a little over” on its overtime budget, Sokol said.

Waynesburg Borough was able to refresh its salt supplies this week when it received an additional 68 tons, said borough manager Mike Simms. “We’re as ready as we’re going to be, though it depends on how much snow we’re going to get.”

Simms said he has not yet tallied the overtime hours for the month, but expects it will be higher than normal. “Just like everyone, we’re tired of the winter and ready for some warmer temperatures,” he said.

Franklin Township supervisor Corbly Orndorff said the township received about 300 tons of salt last week and is in good shape.

So far, this winter, the township has already used 600 to 700 tons of salt, which is what it normally uses for the entire winter. Township road crews have put in a great amount of overtime, but the township normally covers that by providing compensatory time, Orndorff said.

“I’m really proud of the job our guys have done, with the amount of hours put in and what they’ve done with the roads,” Orndorff said. “I’m sure they will attack this storm as they attacked the other ones.”

This winter’s polar vortex, coupled with snowfall levels that doubled the average amount for this area, means everyone has been spending more time indoors.

Jonathan Johnson, a clinical social worker based in Waynesburg, said a particularly bad winter can lead to particularly bad cases of cabin fever. When people are stuck indoors for long periods of time, they may feel trapped, and their thoughts begin to spiral out of control, Johnson said.

Johnson suggested a creative outlet such as painting or listening to music as a way to “disconnect” while waiting out a storm. He said it is also helpful to reach out to friends and family via phone or Skype. But he warned that social networks can be “just as cyclical as anything else” and may not remedy that “stir crazy” feeling.

“People often become more lethargic, they spend more time on the couch, they sleep more and none of those things are really helping to bring anything new into your mind or make you feel any better,” Johnson said. “We have to modify our patterns of behavior in light of these types of circumstances.”

If all else fails, just remember spring is only 19 days away.

Staff writer Bob Niedbala contributed to this story.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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