Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turnpike's Storm Problems Linked to Communications

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Turnpike's Storm Problems Linked to Communications

Article excerpt

Better information, including a more accurate weather forecast, would have helped the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission manage last month's snowstorm that stranded more than 500 vehicles between Bedford and Somerset, officials told a state Senate hearing Tuesday.

Although a major snowstorm was in the forecast for days before Jan. 22, it arrived several hours earlier than expected and dumped three to four times more snow than predicted in that area, commission Chairman Sean Logan told a joint meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee and Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

The committees are reviewing the response to the storm, which left some motorists stranded for more than 24 hours. Several hundred local first responders, state police and members of the National Guard went vehicle to vehicle to provide food and make sure no one needed medical attention until the toll road was cleared.

Mr. Logan said the turnpike's reports from AccuWeather had the worst of the storm not arriving until late evening Jan. 22. As a result, it allowed its morning shift to leave at 3 p.m. that day with plans to call workers back at midnight.

But at 3:15 p.m., weather forecasters upgraded the snowfall prediction for Somerset to 18 inches, from 5 inches or less. Turnpike officials didn't receive another weather report for 6 hours, when snow was falling at a rate of nearly 2 inches an hour.

The actual snowfall was more than 35 inches.

"If we knew it was coming quicker and falling faster, we wouldn't have let them go home," Mr. Logan said. The workers were called back before midnight to help those already on duty, but by that time traffic was at a standstill after a series of tractor-trailers jackknifed to block the westbound lanes on the steep hill approaching the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel.

Several committee members noted that television stations in Harrisburg and Philadelphia were updating the weather with heavier snowfall predictions throughout the day.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said that, in general, the agency also needs to get more accurate information about conditions from its personnel on the scene. …

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