Wolf Administration Gives Update on Winter Snow Storm

January 24, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration provided the following update on the winter storm across Pennsylvania and the situation on I-76 in the Somerset area:

A historic snowstorm unfolded from Friday through Saturday evening across much of the southern half of the commonwealth. Snowfall ended Saturday evening after leaving behind a swath of 2-3 feet of snow along the Pennsylvania turnpike corridor. Despite the historic and daunting conditions of the storm, there were no fatalities or major injuries as a result of the backlog due to the response of local and state responders who worked tirelessly to check on vehicles and keep drivers safe.

PennLive: Jaw-dropping snow measurements tallied in Harrisburg, across the state

“Winter Storm Jonas… dumped 30.2 inches of snow on the Harrisburg area from 4 p.m. Friday through late Saturday night… Harrisburg’s prior measurable snowfall record was set nearly 33 years ago, when the capital area was buried by 25 inches of snow in 1983.” [PennLive, 1/23/16]

Inquirer: Storm Jonas was one for the record books

“A historic winter storm, packing hurricane-force gusts, inciting record tides at the Shore, creating blizzard-like conditions and impacting 20 percent of the nation’s population, heaped up to 28 inches of snow – and a colossal cleanup operation – upon the Philadelphia region… Jan. 23, 2016, will be remembered as one of the wildest days in the region’s weather history. Lehigh Valley Airport seemed to top the region with 31.9 inches as of 2 a.m.” [Inquirer, 1/23/16]

Morning Call: Storm smashes Lehigh Valley snowfall record

“More than a doozy, the storm proved historic, dumping 31.7 inches of snow and smashing the area’s previous record. Reminiscent of the epic January 1996 blizzard, which produced the previous record of 25.6 inches of snow in the Lehigh Valley, this storm generated blizzard conditions for a couple hours Saturday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Lance Franck in Mount Holly, N.J.” [Morning Call,1/23/16]

Along I-76, there was a backlog of vehicles in an area that was among the hardest hit in the state with more than 35 inches of snow falling over the course of the storm.

The backlog began when westbound tractor trailers became unable to climb through the mountains toward the Allegheny tunnels, jack-knifed and traffic backed up behind them. As progress was made to clear the initial stranded trucks, other trucks also became unable to go up the hill. This caused a backlog for all vehicles. Due to the backlog and the increasingly poor conditions, emergency crews were unable to get heavy–duty tow trucks to the scene to clear the disabled trucks. The backlog also prevented Turnpike road crews from being able to clear the snow for motorists.

Plan X was instituted by PSP and the Turnpike overnight to start turning people around, and having cars exit turnpike in opposite direction. Plan X is the method by which the Turnpike Commission, in emergency situations such as multiple vehicle accidents, closes certain sections of the Turnpike and reroutes traffic around the affected sections. In order to turn vehicles around, the roadway needed to be cleared by hand and using vehicles smaller than large plows. At this time, the snow was falling at a significant rate.

When the backlog was reported, PEMA contacted Somerset/Bedford emergency management to add extra resources for driver checks by first responders on ATVs. There were five fire departments, including Shanksville, Berlin, Shawnee Valley, New Baltimore, and Somerset, and Pennsylvania State Police personnel performing driver checks. Every car was checked multiple times. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission refueled cars that were low on fuel so they could keep heat running in their cars. The National Guard was deployed with shovels, MREs, water and chains to assist with driver checks and stuck cars. There was a warming shelter set up at the Bedford exit, with additional EMS on standby there.

On Friday night and early Saturday morning, there were more than 135 first responders from state, county, and local governments on the scene. By Saturday, the number of first responders grew to 250 including 87 guard troops supported by 28 humvees, 8 cargo trucks, and 2 large wreckers.

PEMA, in coordination with state agencies and local authorities, implemented a plan to remove stranded motorists from the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bedford and Somerset counties. This plan included buses and specialized vehicles from private vendors, the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Department of Corrections. In addition, incident management teams from PEMA, DCNR, Region 13, and Keystone were on scene to support the established incident command post. A PEMA-IMT representative along with 13 total IMT staff have been at the staging scene.

The queue between mile-markers 126-128 westbound steadily decreased overnight and, at last report, all vehicles were cleared. Salt/plow trucks are in the area and are clearing and treating the roadway. Abandoned vehicles were moved to the KEGG. PEMA with local partners are working out logistics for getting motorists reunited with their vehicles.

Additionally, a number of freed passengers – with the assistance of the National Guard – began to move to the Bedford shelters at the local high school that was established by PEMA. Although shelters were identified at both the middle school and high school only one shelter needed to be established at Bedford High School. Bedford High School had a midnight shelter count of 216 residents. 1,200 meals were delivered by the National Guard consisting of box lunches made by the Salvation Army. The school cafeteria was also opened and served food. Cots were delivered.

Some individuals, mostly commercial truck drivers, elected to remain with their vehicles. Well-being checks of motorists who chose to remain with their vehicles were performed overnight. Meals were also offered to those who stayed with their vehicles.
The shelter manager advises that buses for shelter residents are waiting to go. The manager plans to facilitate their departure and will give each shelter resident a boxed lunch to take with them for the ride. Turnpike is working with a private contractor to reunite people at shelters with their vehicles.

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