The threat of a winter storm bringing snow and ice to the region Thursday prompted another “flexible instructional day” for local school districts and another round of travel restrictions on major highways.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Winter Weather Advisory just before 4 a.m. Thursday for parts of western Pennsylvania, including Westmoreland County, as well as parts of Ohio and West Virginia. The advisory, which remains in effect through 7 a.m. Friday, predicts the region will see mixed precipitation and new snow accumulations of 2 to 4 inches, along with the potential for a light glaze of ice.
In response, Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Ligonier Valley school districts called off in-person classes for Thursday, shifting to full-remote instruction for the day.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) also implemented travel restrictions on trucks and other vehicles on certain roadways beginning at 1 a.m. Thursday and encouraged motorists to avoid unnecessary travel if possible.
As of 1 a.m. Thursday, vehicle restrictions were implemented for the following roadways at Tier 1 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan:
- Interstate 70 from the Maryland border to the PA Turnpike;
- PA Turnpike I-76 (Mainline) in both directions from Cranberry (Exit 161) to Valley Forge (Exit 326);
- PA Turnpike 66 (Greensburg Bypass) from Route 119/Interstate 70 to Route 22/Blairsville;
- Interstate 81 from the Maryland border to Interstate 78;
- The entire length of Interstate 83;
- The entire length of Interstate 99;
- The entire length of Interstate 283.
At 4 a.m. on Thursday, Tier 1 restrictions were added for:
- Route 22 from Interstate 78 to the New Jersey border;
- The entire length of Route 33;
- PA Turnpike I-76 and I-276 (mainline) in both directions from Valley Forge (Exit 326) to the I-95 connector.
- The entire length of Interstate 78;
- Interstate 80 from Interstate 99 to the New Jersey border;
- Interstate 81 from Interstate 78 to Interstate 84;
- The entire length of Interstate 84;
- The entire length of Interstate 176;
- The entire length of Interstate 380;
- PA Turnpike I-476 (Northeastern Extension) from Mid County exit (Exit 20) to Clarks Summit (Exit 131).
Under Tier 1 restrictions, the following vehicles are not permitted on affected roadways:
- Tractors without trailers;
- Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded enclosed trailers, open trailers or tank trailers;
- Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded tandem trailers;
- Enclosed cargo delivery trucks that meet the definition of a CMV;
- Passenger vehicles (cars, SUV’s, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers;
- Recreational vehicles/motorhomes;
- School buses, commercial buses and motor coaches not carrying chains or Alternate Traction Devices (ATD’s);
Further restrictions will be communicated via variable message boards, the 511PA traveler information website at www.511pa.com and smartphone apps. Motorists can also sign up for alerts on www.511pa.com by clicking on “Personal Alerts” in the left-hand menu.
If travel is necessary, PennDOT urged drivers to use caution, reduce speeds and be aware of changing weather conditions, including blowing and drifting snow, which can cause icy areas on roadways, including overpasses and bridges. With freezing temperatures, roads that only look wet may actually be icy, and extra caution is needed when approaching bridges and highway ramps where ice can form without warning.
PennDOT also encouraged drivers to prepare or restock their emergency kits with items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. Motorists should tailor their kits to any specific needs that they or their families have such as baby supplies, extra medication and pet supplies.
When winter weather occurs, drivers should extra cautious around operating snow-removal equipment. When encountering a plow truck, drivers should:
- Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow truck and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck.
- Be alert since plow trucks generally travel much more slowly than other traffic.
- When a plow truck is traveling toward you, move as far away from the center of the road as is safely possible, and remember that snow can obscure the actual snow plow width.
- Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for nearby vehicles.
- Never travel next to a plow truck since there are blind spots where the operator can’t see, and they can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or heavy snowpack.
- Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Also remember that under Pennsylvania state law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.
Last winter in Pennsylvania, according to PennDOT, preliminary data shows that there were 151 crashes resulting in three fatalities and 81 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.