Winter storm blasts region; Penn State opening at 10 a.m.; area schools closed

cpassante@centredaily.comFebruary 4, 2014 

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    Wednesday cancellations

    •  The Centre County Council of Governments Public Services and Environmental Committee meeting at 8:30 a.m.. Wednesday is postponed until 8:30 a.m. March 5.

    •  The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County’s offices will be closed at least for the morning Wednesday.

    •  South Hills School of Business and Technology has postponed its career day until 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at 480 Waupelani Drive.

    • All Centre County public schools.

    • Penn State opens at 10 a.m.

    • Centre County Van Service

    • CLC Charter School

    • Grace Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten

    • Grace Prep

    • NHS School State College

    • Park Forest Day Nursery

    • Patton Senior Center

    • South Hills Business School

    • St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy

    • Young Scholars of Central PA

    • Schlow Centre Region Library is on a two-hour delay

The second low pressure system this week raced through central Pennsylvania overnight into Wednesday, bringing with it fresh snow and sleet.

The weather forced Penn State to delay the opening of the University Park campus to 10 a.m. Wednesday. Classes or activities that begin after 10 a.m. will be held as scheduled, the university said.

“Only employees identified as performing essential services should report as regularly scheduled, unless advised otherwise by their supervisor,” Penn State said in a news release.

Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District announced late Tuesday it had canceled classes for Wednesday.

Early Wednesday, the Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and State College school districts announced they would be closed due to weather.

Also closed are Centre County Van Service, CLC Charter School, Grace Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten, Grace Prep, NHS School State College, Park Forest Day Nursery, Patton Senior Center, South Hills Business School, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy and Young Scholars of Central PA.

Schlow Centre Region Library is on a two-hour delay.

The National Weather Service in State College issued a winter storm warning that expires at 4 p.m. Wednesday. At least 6 inches of snow had fallen by 7 a.m., with predictions up to 10 inches, according to NWS. A coating of sleet and freezing rain capped the fresh snow.

“By (Wednesday) morning, the heaviest will be moving out, and we’ll just be left with some lighter sleet in the area and possibly lighter snow later in the morning,” said Brett Anderson, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather in Ferguson Township.

Anderson said travel will be dicey, and the roads will be worse farther south and east in Pennsylvania.

“People traveling south toward Harrisburg and toward Reading will probably see freezing rain as a much bigger issue than here. And there could be outages because of some significant ice accumulation,” he said.

PennDOT announced that speed limits have been lowered on several highways including: Interstates 80 and 99 and US 322.

PennDOT road crews were poised to clear the 1,450 “snow-miles” — one lane equals 1 snow mile — of roads in Centre County, said James Surkovich, the maintenance operations engineer and manager for District 2, which includes all of Centre County.

“Centre County is pretty much in the 6- to 12-inch range, and some sleet might mix into the southern part,” he said. “When it first starts snowing, it’s a plowing action. Once the storm slows down, we’ll go into what we call a spreading storm with the salt, and allow that to work in.”

Surkovich said this winter’s salt usage is right on par with the average. PennDOT averages the last five years of salt usage to determine how much is needed for the current year.

“We order it if we need it,” he said. “We run salt reports each week, and they lag a little bit depending on whether we just went out and salted, like (Monday). In Centre County, we’re right about at average.”

Surkovich said the District 2 office is about 70 percent through its salt budget.

“We plan on using about 17,500 tons of salt (a year) in that five-year average, and we’re still on track to do that despite that it looks like a bad winter. We also use anti-icing, sort of a salt brine, to spray on roads before a storm. That prepares the road for the snow, and even though it might be a bad winter, it allows us to keep salt (use) down.”

In State College, there were nine weather-related vehicle accidents Monday, two of them involving snowplows, said police Lt. Mark Argiro.

Argiro said the borough is prepared for the storm, with most of the areas in need cleared in advance of the snowfall.

State College has declared a snow emergency, which happens when 3 inches or more of snow has fallen. All vehicles must be off the street until the snow has stopped and the streets have been cleared.

The Fraser and Pugh streets parking garages are alternative for those normally parking on the roads during the snow emergency. Sidewalks must be cleared within 24 hours after the snow has stopped.

Harris and Patton township also declared snow emergencies, effective at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. All vehicles must be removed from the roads until the snow has stopped and the streets have been cleared.

FirstEnergy also was standing by, according to the power company.

“We are monitoring the weather conditions closely and are making plans to deploy resources to the areas that could get hit the hardest,” said Steven E. Strah, vice president of distribution support for FirstEnergy. “The ultimate goal of our pre-planning efforts is to speed the restoration process and minimize any inconvenience our customers experience due to the weather.”

Despite the pummeling of snow Centre County has received so far this winter, it’s actually on average with winters past, said AccuWeather’s Anderson.

“We’re right at 28 inches so far this winter, so we’re running right about normal,” he said. The average annual snowfall for Centre County is 44 inches.

The storm is tracking quickly, having tapped Gulf of Mexico moisture on its way into the Northeast. After the snowfall, the rest of the week looks cold and dry, with highs in the lower 20s Thursday and Friday and inching up into the upper 20s on Saturday, Anderson said.

And just in case this storm wasn’t enough for you, another one could be on the way.

AccuWeather is forecasting 1 to 3 inches of snow Saturday night.

Follow Christopher Passante on Twitter @ChrisPassanteCDT.

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