PITTSBURGH — This winter has been mild to say the least, with above-average temperatures and little to no snowfall. But that all changed Thursday night.
Back in December, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials reported they had filled about 41% of its 695 temporary operator positions and 94% of its permanent operators. (To see what jobs are available, CLICK HERE.)
Lori Musto, assistant district executive of maintenance for District 11 PennDOT, told Channel 11 that Allegheny County has a reported 134 snowplow operators, and despite open snowplow driver positions across the state, local crews were ready for snowfall.
“We are down some operators, but we have contingency plans in place,” Musto said. “A lot of our municipalities take care of the state routes with an exception of the interstates and interstate lookalikes. We utilize rental trucks if we need to, and we shift people around as needed.”
Musto said his office had around 65 plow trucks out across Allegheny County.
Allegheny County’s Department of Public Works deployed 22 salt trucks installed with plows when the snow started falling. Officials said county roads would be treated continuously until the snow stopped. The agency said it is responsible for maintaining more than 360 miles of roads. Each of the agency’s 52 salt trucks were ready to roll when needed. It also had nearly 10,000 tons of salt on hand.
“Take your time,” said Public Works Director Stephen Shanley. “It’s our first snow. Give our drivers enough room out there and watch out for bridges and structures. They do ice up quicker.”
Pittsburgh residents can report roads that need to be cleared of snow and ice through the 311 Response Center or by calling 412-255-2621.
PennDOT officials said the HOV lanes will remain closed to all traffic until Friday afternoon due to the snow.
Pittsburgh’s Plow Tracker activated
“The Department of Public Works has really been getting ready for a half a year getting ready for the snow season,” said Lisa Frank with the City of Pittsburgh. “There are about 50 trucks out pretreating roads in the day shift, then another 40 out during the night.”
The plow tracker app is up and running for city residents to monitor as well.
City officials said the department is not impacted by staffing shortages related to COVID-19 and was ready for the snow.
And what about if you rely on a bus to get around?
The Port Authority of Allegheny County had nearly 84 employees test positive for COVID-19 in December alone, and another 30 or so in the first few days of January. The company said that due to staffing shortages it may have to cancel 100 to 200 routes a day. It added the snow isn’t concerning and won’t impact service, even with the setback.
Pittsburgh International Airport
Pittsburgh International Airport said it was prepared. According to PIT, it had its heavy equipment operators stage a drill out on the airfield to prepare for severe weather events.
“They want to keep this airport running at all times,” said Jim Moorhead, superintendent of field maintenance at PIT. “When you haven’t run them for nine months, you want your staff back in them, operating them and feeling comfortable.”
According to Blue Sky News, a publication of Pittsburgh International Airport, the group reviews the weather and snowfall forecast for the next few months and discusses best practices for using the different types of chemicals, including freezing points, to spread across 40,000 feet of runways, taxiways, ramps and roadways around the airport throughout the winter.
Heavy snow expected in the Laurel Highlands
Usually one of the first areas to see snow is the top of Laurel Mountain, right at the edge of the Westmoreland County line. Areas in the Laurel Highlands were expecting heavy snow and accumulation overnight into Friday.
“Extremely unusual. Especially here in Ligonier Township. We typically get snow on a regular basis,” said township manager Terry Carcella. “December’s been a really magnificent month for us. We have a lot of stockpile left. We’re using last year’s stockpile of cinder and salt.”
Officials in Ligonier and Donegal said they had crews ready to go once the flakes started to fly. They told Channel 11 News the different elevations mean it’s a constant battle to clear the roads.
Shoppers, stores preparing
“Not ready for this at all,” said Lawrence Ritenour, who lives on the North Side.
“We’re ready. We’ve been ready. We’re just waiting on the snow,” said Samantha Post, co-owner of T&M Hardware and Rental.
Her store is loaded up on everything you need to clear the snow -- from shovels and salt, to sleds to enjoy it.
They’re prepared for the snow and say you should be, too.
“We tend to find that everybody wakes up day of and figures out what they don’t have, so we anticipate being busy later this week,” said Post.
AAA advice on prepping your car for the snow, frigid temps
To avoid a headache as you’re rushing out the door Friday morning, you might want to check things like your wiper blades, tire pressure and fluid levels.
“Slow down. That’s the safest thing you can do behind the wheel,” said AAA spokesperson Jim Garrity.
His other advice:
- Increase following distance
- Avoid sudden stops and starts
- Do not use cruise control
- Keep your gas tank at least half full
A reminder: it’s state law that all snow and ice must be removed from your vehicle before hitting the road.
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