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Storm gives area another blast of winter

December 15, 2003|by DON AINES and DAVE McMILLION

chambersburg@herald-mail.com
charlestown@herald-mail.com

From 4:32 a.m. through early Sunday evening, Denny Clopper counted 17 accidents around Franklin County, Pa., although none involved any serious injuries.

"Make that 18. We just dispatched one down to Greencastle (Pa.)," the 911 telecommunicator supervisor said just after 6 p.m. There also had been a couple of chimney fires and four calls about downed wires or utility poles thrown into the wintry mix, he said.

That mix of about 4 inches of snow followed by sleet had dispatchers, police, ambulance personnel, road crews and towing services trying to keep up on Sunday.

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"It's been mostly minor traffic accidents ... that's basically all we're seeing," Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jeff Sarver said after returning to the barracks Sunday afternoon from an accident on Timmons Mountain Road. He said a woman was driving an SUV to work when it went off the mountainous road.

"Her four-wheel drive wasn't working," Sarver said.

Sarver said a southbound tractor-trailer went off Interstate 81 and rolled onto its side near Exit 20, but the driver was unhurt in the 11:53 a.m. accident. The rig did not block the southbound lanes, but Sarver said, "the tricky part will be getting it back on the road."

Another accident occurred near the exit involving another tractor-trailer at 4:22 p.m., Clopper said. The trailer had become unhitched from the tractor and the southbound lanes re-opened early Sunday evening.

Two tractor-trailers and a state police cruiser were involved in a 7:20 p.m. crash on I-81 near Exit 14 in Chambersburg, Pa., Clopper said later. Again, no serious injuries were reported, but the southbound lanes of the interstate were still closed as of 9 p.m. between Exits 14 and 16, he said.

The police are not called every time a vehicle slides off the road or gets stuck in the snow, but the wife of one tow-truck driver said the phone was ringing off the hook.

"I bet he's probably on his 25th call today and I've got five here he's yet to go on," Christie Edwards said at about 2 p.m. Sunday. She was dispatching calls Sunday for her husband, David, whose father, Abe, owns Abe's Auto Service in Chambersburg.

"He and my son went out at 5:30 a.m. and I haven't seen them since," she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation garage in Chambersburg began calling in foremen at about 3:15 a.m., according to Perry Goetz, the facility's equipment manager. He said 41 trucks were plowing, salting and putting cinders on state roads.

"Of course, all the crews are out and we're waiting for this to taper off," Goetz said Sunday afternoon as the snow changed to sleet. Timing was important for the crews finishing up the roads, he said.

"You can't do it too soon or it'll just turn into a skating rink," he said.

Officials for the Chambersburg, Waynesboro, Greencastle-Antrim and Tuscarora school districts were saying Sunday afternoon that a decision to close or delay the opening of schools would be left until early this morning.

In West Virginia, winter has not yet officially arrived and already the Eastern Panhandle has been hit by two snowstorms in nine days.

On Dec. 5, the first major snow of the season dumped up to 10 inches of snow and ice on the Tri-State area and on Sunday morning, local residents woke up to 5 inches of snow.

The official beginning of winter still is a week away, but it didn't look like it Sunday.

The area got a double punch of snow followed by freezing rain, which made for some tricky driving.

A local police spokesman said there were "cars sliding everywhere" Sunday, including a wreck involving three tractor-trailers and a car at the Winchester Avenue exit along Interstate 81.

There were no injuries in the crash, which forced police to shut down the northbound lane, emergency dispatchers said.

Three northbound tractor-trailers got jumbled up in an accident on Interstate 81 in a construction zone between mile markers 12 and 13, according to Trooper C.A. Ellwanger of the West Virginia State Police.

"It wasn't pretty, but no one was hurt," said Ellwanger, who said he was at the scene at about 6 p.m., but did not know what time the call was dispatched. "They were actually avoiding a wreck that happened in front of them," he said.

That accident was not serious, either, he said.

State highway crews were working to get roads clear but it was a tough task, said Danny Clark, administrator of the Division of Highways office in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Traffic was packing the snow and ice mixture onto roads, and the problem was further complicated by people shoveling and plowing snow into streets.

"It's a mess," said Clark, adding that warmer temperatures would help the situation.

Forecasts call for little or no precipitation with windy conditions and highs in the low 40s.

Clark said he has not seen any long-term forecasts other than some in farmers' almanacs, which are calling for significant snow this season.

Clark was hopeful that the early showing of snow was just a fluke.

"Maybe it will get it out of its system," Clark said.

Bertha Brown was getting a little worried.

"Oh my goodness. I hope this is not the beginning of anything treacherous," Brown said as she finished clearing her sidewalk outside her West John Street home in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Sunday afternoon.

Road crews and private snowplow operators worked into the night Sunday removing snow from roads and parking lots.

Schools in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties were closed Monday, according to their Web sites and county dispatchers.

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