Transportation officials at the state, regional and local levels want to remind people that the previous warm winter that brought only two storms was the exception, and they are urging motorists to prepare for winter.
“We want people to be prepared to back down on the speed, plan ahead so you’re not rushed and give my guys enough room. Don’t crowd the (plow) trucks,” said Joe Kelemen, senior PennDOT manager for Somerset County.
Kelemen and Dennis Mehora, senior PennDOT manager for Cambria County, are among those responsible for highways and bridges statewide. They are keeping an eye on the calendar and the weather forecasts, knowing that snow, ice and wind soon will be settling in.
In Johnstown, public works Director Darby Sprincz said he is walking a fine line keeping some of his equipment ready for a sudden cold snap or snowstorm, while having other pieces available to deal with fallen leaves.
“Some of our smaller trucks are hooked up for plowing, but I’m still using the bigger trucks for leaf collection,” Sprincz said.
The city’s salt bins are at capacity with
600 tons available and 200 additional tons on contract from last year – unused because of the mild winter.
PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch released his annual winter message and travel guide on Friday. Schoch said all should go well as long as motorists and their vehicles are ready and precautions are followed.
“PennDOT is ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way,” he said. “However, to help us do our job effectively we need the collective efforts of all drivers to just drive winter smart.”
Indications from weather experts are that winter temperatures and snowfall will this season be back to normal.
Meteorologists with Earth Networks say that the Northeast will experience fairly normal temperatures – at times slightly cooler this winter – with precipitation also likely at normal levels.
The three-month predictions run through the end of February.
Not a concern, said Mehora and Kelemen, who report that equipment, supplies and employees are ready for whatever winter brings to the region.
“We’re in the Laurel Highlands, so we have to be ready,” Mehora said. “I watch the weather constantly because there are decisions that (at times) have to be made immediately.”
Kelemen said he has been ready for some time because parts of Somerset County already have seen snow.
“We actually had our initial test when Hurricane Sandy came through,” he said.
The superstorm that swept along the East Coast brought precipitation and colder temperatures, dumping up to 2 feet of snow on the Mount Davis and Confluence areas.
Somerset’s 24-hour radio dispatch is in place, and Kelemen has “night riders” prepared. Their role is to monitor especially troublesome areas and report back to dispatch when maintenance is needed.
PennDOT’s night riders will be out on Cambria County highways beginning next week, Mehora said.
As in previous years, main roads will take priority when it is time to plow snow.
Mehora and Kelemen will have crews focus on primary routes first followed by secondary routes and then lesser-used rural routes.
For Cambria, those priorities are routes 219, 56, 271, 36, 53 and 160, Mehora said.
In Somerset the priority routes are 219, 56, 30, 31 and 985, Kelemen said.
Meanwhile, Mehora tells drivers to be ready.
“Last year was a fluke. From everything I’m hearing, we don’t expect this year to be an easy winter,” Mehora said.
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