Storm freezes area

December 12, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

TRI-STATE - Wednesday's freezing rain and slush knocked out power to more than 10,000 homes in the Tri-State area and kept road crews busy Wednesday but officials said trees and limbs downed by the weight of the ice caused more problems than slick road surfaces.

The storm glazed roads and sparked public schools and businesses to close across the Tri-State area.

Washington County Public Schools had not made an announcement about whether schools would be open today or on a delay.

Schools in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia are on a two-hour delay today, according to Web sites for the school districts.

Most of Wednesday's power outages were caused by trees or tree branches falling onto power lines, Allegheny Energy spokesman Allen Staggers said.


"Pick a town and we've got some customers out," Staggers said. "Ice storms are the worst kind of storms for an electrical utility."

Power would not be restored to some homes until Friday, he said.

The ice storm had dropped 1.4 inches of precipitation on the region by 9 p.m., according to local weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site. The low Wednesday was 22 and the high was 33 degrees, Keefer's site said.

The second winter storm in less than a week left pools of standing water on roadways, but National Weather Service Meteorologist Dewey Walston said the water should dry without freezing, paving the way for today's morning commute.

"There shouldn't be any problems; the water should dry up overnight," Walston said. Temperatures "could be freezing by morning, but it should be dry enough not to cause a problem."

National Weather Service meteorologist David Manning said temperatures will be in the low 40s today, melting any ice left on the roads.

Many workers stayed home Wednesday to avoid roads slick with ice or sloppy with slush as the rain melted snow piled up from a Dec. 5 storm.

"I hate winter," said Robin Shirey, a Hagerstown maintenance worker, as he negotiated the city's ice-covered sidewalks.

Nick Hodges, a framing contractor in Washington County, said snowpacked side roads were hazardous because the ruts were filled with water and slush.

"You don't want to drive the speed limit; you want to take it slower," he said.

Wednesday's storms had Washington County road crews "running ragged," pushing back snow left from last week's storm "so there wouldn't be so much water on the roads," Director of Highways Ted Wolford said.

Highway officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties said that trees felled by the ice were playing havoc with efforts to clear roads there.

Ronnie Allen, a foreman for the Department of Highways in Berkeley County, said a crew would work into the night to clear trees in time for this morning's commute.

Dave Rock, manager of Penn-DOT's garage in Chambersburg, Pa., said crews began applying salt and anti-skid materials to the roads around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said the crews would stay on the job late in the day.

"Traffic was light all day," Rock said. "It was a blessing."

Rock said the department's biggest headache was removing ice-covered tree limbs that had fallen on the roads. "They were more trouble than the roads," he said.

Michael Christopher, Washington Township, Pa., administrator, said crews there also were on the roads at around 4:30 a.m.

They spread anti-skid material - a combination of salt and limestone - on township roads. "They became more passable as the day wore on," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Highways in Jefferson County, W.Va., said primary roads were plowed and treated by Wednesday afternoon, but secondary roads were still ice-covered and "trees are down everywhere."

Power outages

About 2,100 Hagerstown Light Department customers, mostly in the city's East End, were without power for less than one hour Wednesday due to the storms, Light Manager Mike Spiker said.

An additional 220 customers were still without power Wednesday evening, he said. All city customers will have power this morning, he said.

The city temporarily lost power at several traffic signals downtown Wednesday night.

Allegheny Energy power outages included:

  • About 3,200 customers in Washington County as of Wednesday night.

  • About 5,200 customers in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, including some customers in Martinsburg, Charles Town, Berkeley Springs, Falling Waters, Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, Inwood, Bunker Hill and other communities.

  • About 3,900 customers in Franklin County, Pa., in Blue Ridge Summit and Guilford, Hamilton, Greene, Fannett and St. Thomas townships.

Emergency shelters

Emergency shelters opened in some communities to provide warm places for those without power.

A shelter opened in the Martinsburg Mall's Community Room at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services, said that agency worked with the Berkeley County Chapter of the American Red Cross in Martinsburg to set up a shelter at the Martinsburg Mall.

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