Snow ‘slows everybody down’

Residents shovel out after storm dumps more than 8 inches

Many motorists found area roads, including Altoona’s 17th Street, challenging to navigate due to the heavy snowfall Thursday. A PennDOT plow helped clear a path for vehicles after a number of cars were stuck in the left lane.

There have been wintertimes recently with little measurable snow.

Thursday guaranteed that this wintertime won’t be one of those — even though the official start of winter is still five weeks away.

Less than a week ago, the first outdoor ice showed up in scattered puddles, but Thursday, it was frozen water as far as you could see, as 8.3 inches of snow fell on Altoona during a period that roughly corresponded with the workday.

The snow was falling so fast in the afternoon that by the time people finished clearing off their car, it was time to start over.

The boulevards of level, heavily traveled Pleasant Valley weren’t bad, but it was different on the side streets and at intersections, especially if there was an upslope where drivers had to wait for traffic.

Area motorists, including Melinda Flores, had to clear ice and snow from their vehicles before venturing out late Thursday morning.

The scanner chatter throughout most of Thursday was constant, and a call to the Blair County 911 Center yielded a harried dismissal because the staff was overly busy.

A call to the state police barracks in Hollidaysburg resulted in a conversation that wasn’t much different.

The storm that brought the snow came in from the southwest over the Laurel Highlands, but because of the size of the system and the counter-clockwise rotation of the air mass, the wind was out of the east, like a right hook in boxing, according to information provided by meteorologist Mike Colbert from the National Weather Service in State College.

Counter-intuitively, perhaps, the storm, even though it came at us over higher ground in the west, was warmer than the air in the east, Colbert said.

That eastern air was the remnant of a cold air system that had been in the area in recent days, he said.

Denny Palko restocks the salt display at Lowe’s on Thursday.

As that cold air moved westward with the wind of the storm, it got hung up, or “dammed,” on the Allegheny Front to our immediate west, Colbert said.

Hence, this area was getting snow, while at least early in the storm, the Somerset area was getting freezing rain and ice pellets, according to Colbert.

Toward late afternoon Thursday, the snow gave way to sleet, ending the accumulation — at least until about 2 a.m. today, when another 1 to 3 inches is possible over the subsequent three hours, according to the National Weather Service.

Today should be cloudy with a high in the upper 30s and Saturday and Sunday sunny, except for a possible snow shower late Sunday, with highs in the upper 30s, Colbert said.

Kids have fun

Workers at area tire shops, including Jonathan Miller at Eddie's Tire & Alignment in Duncansville, were very busy as car owners changed over to winter tires Thursday.

Late Thursday afternoon, at the foot of the sloping front lawn of Baker Mansion, Sara Mikitko was with her two young sons and their two young friends, a couple of whom were sledding, a couple of whom were getting ready to sled.

“It’s crazy out,” Mikitko said. She’s OK with the snow.

“It’s nice. It’s a change,” she said. “It slows everybody down.”

Son, Jeremiah, 10, who was holding a stubby green plastic sled, began pestering his mom for a better one.

He demonstrated how his just nosedives.

Jeremy Shaw tries to stay ahead of customers looking for snow shovels Thursday afternoon at Lowes. He said he actually sold more shovels on Wednesday than Thursday.

His mom demurred and indicated that maybe she could give him a sledding lesson.

Nearby, a motorist who’d pulled off onto the median was stuck.

He was poring over his manual to determine how to shift into a transmission mode for better traction.

A passerby offered to help push his vehicle but had trouble getting traction himself in the snow.

The motorist continued to search his manual for help.

At Red Lobster in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center, a computer-printed paper sign affixed to the front door stated: “Due to the torrential snow storm, Red Lobster is closing today at 5 p.m.”

Across the parking lot, nearer the main block of stores, Sean Boyles pulled up in an all-wheel-drive vehicle and parked amid deep snow.

He was having no issues getting around, he said.

He has a commercial driver’s license and handles a bucket truck at work.

He cheerfully admitted to chuckling at drivers who don’t deal easily with winter driving.

PennDOT on Thursday reduced the speed limits on I-99 from the turnpike to Centre County, on Route 22 from I-99 to Indiana County and on Route 219 from Ebensburg to Somerset to 45 mph, according to a news release.

The release cautioned drivers against passing plow trucks or following them with less than six car lengths distance.

“Be patient,” said PennDOT District 9 spokesman Anthony Scalia.

In Blair County, 26 PennDOT plow trucks were on the move, operated by drivers working 12-hour shifts, giving the department 24-hour coverage until the highways are in satisfactory shape, according to Scalia.

The plow truck drivers began Wednesday afternoon by treating major roadways with brine to keep snow and ice from sticking, Scalia said.

Regular residents too had been out ahead of the storm, coming into Hometown Market in Hollidaysburg to purchase bread, milk and spring water — “and for some reason, pumpkin pies,” said Manager Tom Diciurcio.

The run on bread, milk and water was predictable, as people want to avoid coming after the snow begins or else fear being snowed in, Diciurcio said.

But even though the pies were on sale, moving 20 cases on a Wednesday was not predictable.

“Unheard of,” he said.

In Wehnwood, Mallow’s Hardware was “overwhelmed with people,” beginning on Wednesday morning, said owner David Mallow.

The store sold 30 to 50 shovels and 800 bags of salt — most of those by the skid to contractors, Mallow said.

“People are still buying,” he said, in the middle of the afternoon Thursday.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.