Mother Nature played a Halloween trick on residents in the mountainous areas of Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties Tuesday and Wednesday, slamming the area with an ice storm that forced the closing of several major highways because of downed trees and power lines that made driving dangerous.
Because of the icing conditions that persist throughout the Laurel Mountains, PennDOT in Hollidaysburg yesterday issued a travel advisory that will remain in effect until this morning. Portions of seven roads were closed yesterday afternoon and some will remain closed this morning to allow utility companies to clear and repair downed lines and permit PennDOT crews the chance to clear downed trees from the roads.
The closings affected Route 271, Menoher Highway, from west of Johnstown to Westmoreland County; Route 56 from Pleasantville in Bedford County to Babcock Park in Somerset County; Route 30 from the area of the former Ships Hotel in Bedford County to east of Reels Corner in Somerset County; Route 869, Brumbaugh Mountain in Bedford County east of Interstate 99; Route 30 Sideling Hill Mountain west of Harrisonville in Fulton County to Route 915 near Bedford County line; Route 915 from Route 30 to State Route 4006 in Fulton County; Old Route 22 from Duncansville in Blair County to Cresson Summit in Cambria County.
Joseph Kellem, a maintenance supervisor for PennDOT in Somerset County, said that sections of Route 31 between Donegal and Somerset also were affected by the storm.
A PennDOT spokesman said crews were pulled from clearing some highways Wednesday afternoon because of the danger of continuing to work among downed power lines and fallen trees.
Numerous power outages were reported in Somerset County. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Electric Co., which serves Somerset County, could not be reached for comment, other than a statement saying the utility was dealing with widespread power outages.
“They’re putting the lines up and they’re coming down as fast as they can repair them,” PennDOT spokesman Asbury Lee said of the utility crews.
Sandy Lepley, of Meyersdale, said she lost power at about 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and didn’t expect to have it back last night. “The whole area is without power,” Lepley said of an outage that stretched into Larimer, Southhampton, Northhampton and Greenville townships of Somerset County as far as she knew. “(The storm) started (Tuesday) at about 12:30. It just kept drizzling and it hasn’t melted. The roads were fine, but there’s so much ice on the trees that branches are being pulled down. Our timber is all over the place. Every five minutes you hear a tree snapping in the woods.”
Lepley lives on a farm and usually a milking system that runs on electricity is used for the cows. With the power loss, a generator had to be brought in to allow those chores to be performed. Lepley said that’s the first time since 1974 that’s had to be done.
Connie Glessner, of Berlin in Brothersvalley Township, said she hasn’t been without power but has had her share of power surges. “Our power has stayed on, but it flickers off and on. Every 15 minutes the power goes off for a few seconds, just enough to mess up your computer,” Glessner said. “This is a pretty good ice storm that’s unusual for this time of year. There’s ice hanging on road signs. It’s so thick on the trees that it’s making it heavy on branches everywhere.”
“A lot of power lines are down and trees are broken,” added Jeannie Croyle, of Central City, in the northern part of Somerset County. “There isn’t a lot of ice on the streets, but the danger is with the tree limbs sitting on the roads. It’s like a winter wonderland. Everything is iced over except the roads. The shrubs, people’s Halloween decorations, cars, flags, anything that was left outside has ice on it.”
The problems were caused by a storm that originated in the Ohio Valley, providing the moisture that froze over the mountains when it collided with cold air from New York, producing a drastic drop in temperatures, according to Marc Spilide, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. of State College. The icy grip on the mountainous area is expected to melt away later today as temperatures rise about freezing.