Governor Tom Wolf today signed a proclamation of disaster emergency in anticipation of a major winter storm expected to bring as much as two feet of snow to parts of the commonwealth. Power outages are also a possibility, given the wet, heavy nature of the snow and strong winds that could bring down trees and power lines.
“Currently, models predict that the first significant winter storm in nearly a year will hit Pennsylvania tomorrow,” Gov. Wolf said during a virtual press conference today. “The commonwealth’s emergency preparedness teams have spent a great deal of time and energy over the last several months supporting efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and help the commonwealth weather this public health emergency and ensure vaccines are delivered as planned. This proclamation makes it easier for all of those involved in vaccine delivery and keeping people safe to do their jobs.”
The proclamation covers the following counties: Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Bucks, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland, Wyoming, and York.
It is important to note that the proclamation itself does not restrict vehicular travel on commonwealth roads, but PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be announcing speed and travel restrictions.
Restrictions will be communicated via variable message boards, the 511PA traveler information website at www.511pa.com and smartphone apps. Motorists can also sign up for alerts on www.511pa.com by clicking on “Personal Alerts” in the left-hand menu.
PennDOT is urging motorists to use caution during the event and generally reduce speeds and be aware of changing weather conditions. Heavy winds and blowing/drifting snow are expected with this storm, and motorists always should be alert for sudden squalls which can strike with little or no warning and quickly cause roads to become snow covered. Heavy squalls also can cause whiteout conditions, virtually eliminating a driver’s visibility.
Motorists are reminded that roadways will not be free of snow while precipitation is falling. With freezing temperatures, roads that look wet may actually be icy, and extra caution is needed when approaching bridges and highway ramps where ice can form without warning.
To help make decisions regarding winter travel, motorists are encouraged to “Know Before You Go” by checking conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 1,000 traffic cameras. Users can also see plow truck statuses and travel alerts along a specific route using the “Check My Route” tool.
511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.
Drivers should prepare or restock their emergency kits with items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. Motorists should tailor their kits to any specific needs that they or their families have such as baby supplies, extra medication and pet supplies.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) works with county emergency management personnel to monitor unmet local needs during inclement weather affecting travel, utilities and shelter. PEMA encourages Pennsylvanians to access www.Ready.pa.gov for free downloadable emergency kit checklists for the home and car. PEMA is also coordinating any unmet needs to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine deliveries planned for this week go as expected.
The Pennsylvania State Police says the number one thing people can do to keep themselves and first responders safe is to stay home and not travel during and immediately after the storm. State police and local law enforcement will respond to traffic collisions and work to clear them as quickly as possible, but emergency crews will be dealing with the same weather as everyone else, so response times will be affected. Before the snow starts falling, make sure your home is stocked with the essentials so that you don’t have to go out during the storm.
If you must travel, slow down and increase your following distance. Most collisions in snowy and icy conditions are the result of driving too fast for the conditions or following too closely. Four-wheel drive may help with driving in the snow, but it does nothing to help with stopping, so leave plenty of room. And remember, speed limits are designed for ideal conditions. Drivers can be cited for driving too fast for the conditions, even below the speed limit.
The emergency proclamation authorizes state agencies to use all available resources and personnel, as necessary, to cope with the magnitude and severity of this emergency situation. In addition, emergency procurement procedures are authorized for purchasing supplies or services to aid emergency response.