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Winter storm wreaks havoc on area roads

December 16, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

erinc@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Sleet and ice that began falling in the Tri-State area Thursday caused dozens of fender benders and minor wrecks, but no major incidents had been reported by 10:30 p.m.

Washington County Highway Department employees worked around the clock in 12-hour shifts, spreading salt and other melting materials on area roads.

The snow that fell early Thursday was covered with a thin layer of ice by evening, with up to a quarter-inch of ice expected to fall throughout the night and early today.

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A Washington County Emergency Services supervisor said many vehicle crashes were reported when the snow and sleet that was falling in the area changed to ice. Most of these wrecks were on highways and state roads, the supervisor said.

Some people were taken by ambulance to Washington County Hospital with injuries from "weather-related accidents," but their injuries were minor, he said.

By 9 p.m., Emergency Services had not received any reports of downed tree limbs or power lines.

Maryland State Police placed the snow emergency plan into effect because of the threat of snow- and ice-covered roads. The plan requires vehicles driving in snow emergency routes to have chains, snow tires or all-season radial tires.

The snow emergency plan in Frederick County also was activated.

Jon McGee, an AccuWeather meteorologist, said the precipitation was expected to stop by 4 a.m. today.

The Humane Society of Washington County closed at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Washington County Health Department canceled several evening appointments.

Schools in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties in W.Va. were closed Thursday, according to spokeswoman Jaimee Borger. Berkeley County schools are closed today, Borger said.

West Virginia State Police Sgt. Eric Burnett said Thursday afternoon that slick roads had caused multiple accidents, but all were minor.

"We've been working wreck after wreck. We've had three (wreck calls) come in in the last 10 minutes," Burnett said shortly after 3 p.m.

He said Interstate 81 also was slick and the site of some accidents.

As of 7 p.m. in Jefferson County, roads were mostly slushy, although surfaces on some bridges were starting to freeze, a 911 dispatcher said.

There were reports of motorists sliding off roads, but there were no major accidents, the dispatcher said.

In Pennsylvania, Doug Tosten, a supervisor at PennDOT's Franklin County office in Chambersburg, Pa., said crews would be on 12-hour shifts during the night and this morning.

He said because freezing rain and sleet were falling, crews would plow lightly during the night and leave a little snow on the road. If the roads were plowed down to bare pavement, they would ice over and create dangerous driving conditions, he said.

"I'll take snow anytime over freezing rain and sleet," he said. "That's the worst thing we can have."

"Around 4 a.m. (Friday), we'll start plowing the roads clean," Tosten said.

He urged motorists to drive 10 mph below the speed limit for safety reasons.

Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg and Franklin County dispatchers reported only a few minor accidents Thursday as a result of the storm.

A similar situation was reported in Fulton County, Pa., by state police in McConnellsburg.

Staff writers Richard F. Belisle, Candice Bosley and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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