Storm less severe than expected

Wednesday’s winter storm may not have hit the local area particularly hard, but residents statewide are feeling the effects of the ice and snow, which left more than 750,000 without power.

Most of those who lost power were in the eastern part of the state, said Chris Eck, spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., which owns Penelec.

In Blair County, about 300 lost power, and all but five had their electric service restored by mid-afternoon Wednesday, he said.

“We’re down to the short strokes here now,” Eck said. “We had expected the storm to hit a little north and west than actually where it was.”

Eck said he was in Altoona in the morning to deal with the power outages there, but he was heading further east to help people in York County, Gettysburg and other regions – about 70,000 total without power at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Valley Rural Electric Cooperative Inc., which also covers residents in Blair County, did not return calls for comment.Eck said the most important thing for people to remember if they lose power is not to touch any downed power lines or branches, as they could still carry a charge.

“You can’t tell by looking if a wire has power or not,” he said.

Reporting the outage immediately is also key, Eck said, to ensure that it is fixed promptly.

According to the Weather Channel, half an inch of ice can add 500 pounds of weight to power lines and can make tree branches 30 times heavier, which makes a power outage much more likely.

John LaCorte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, said the local area received about the expected amount of ice, which was about a quarter-inch. About 2.5 inches of snow fell in and around the city of Altoona as well, LaCorte said.

The amount of precipitation was predicted very accurately by meteorologists, he said, which helps emergency responders better prepare to battle the elements.

“We hit a home run here – actually. This was a fairly well-predicted storm,” LaCorte said. “We can never nail the actual accumulations exactly, but we pretty much got what we expected.”

PennDOT Safety Press Officer Anthony Scalia said truck operators were able to get in front of the storm and make sure anti-skid and ice melt were put down before the roads became too dangerous. He said PennDOT’s tow plow also helped make clean-up easier.

He said the fact that much of the snow was wet and that temperatures warmed up quickly also ensured roads were cleared in a timely manner.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.