Gov. Tom Wolf has declared a disaster emergency in anticipation of a major winter storm that could dump 2 or more feet of snow and trigger power outages across a wide swath of the state, the Pennsylvania governor’s office announced late Tuesday.
The governor’s declaration makes it easier for Pennsylvania emergency preparedness teams to continue deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to hospitals and distribution points, his office said in a news release.
The declaration does not ban travel, but PennDOT has issued travel restrictions on a wide range of highways including Interstates 78 and 81, effective 1 p.m. Wednesday.
PennDOT’s vehicle restriction plan limits speeds of all vehicles to 45 mph. It bans travel of cars, SUVs, pickups and towing trailers. It also limits commercial vehicles to travel in the right lane only.
Pennsylvania Governor Declares Disaster Emergency
The governor’s emergency declaration comes as Berks County municipalities are hunkering down in anticipation of a nor’easter that could blanket Berks and surrounding counties with up to a foot of snow, accompanied by sleet and ice.
The first major snowstorm of the season, and perhaps the worst since January 2016, is forecast to dump 6 to 12 inches of snow on Berks and neighboring regions, according to the National Weather Service.
The service issued a winter storm warning for the period from noon on Wednesday to 10 a.m. on Thursday.
Snow should start midday Wednesday, mixing with freezing rain in the afternoon and evening hours. The heaviest snow is forecast for late afternoon and early evening.
The weather service warns that an at-times-blinding snowfall would reduce visibility and create hazardous driving conditions during the evening commute.
PennDOT advises motorists to stay off the region’s highways during the storm.
If travel is essential, PennDOT says, motorists are advised to keep a full tank of gas, an emergency kit, and a cellphone with them. An emergency kit should include nonperishable food, water, a blanket, a small snow shovel, and warm clothes.
PennDOT Prepares For Heavy Snow
Ronald J. Young Jr., the spokesman for Allentown-based District 5, said PennDOT crews have started gearing up for an influx of heavy wet snow and a possible sleet mix.
The department has 41 snow trucks and 62 workers at the ready to keep Berks roadways passable and free of ice and snow, Young said.
“Our staff is fueling up and checking chainsaws and other equipment that may be needed to clear downed trees,” Young said.
PennDOT also advises motorists to remain alert for utility crews working along roads. Also, leave plenty of space when driving near snow plow trucks. Additionally, avoid passing a truck that is plowing or spreading winter materials.
The governor’s emergency declaration will be in effect in Pennsylvania for 90 days unless rescinded sooner or extended.
It authorizes PennDOT to waive regulations related to drivers of commercial vehicles to ensure timely movement of commodities, particularly food. It also provides consumer protections against price gouging. This prohibits price hikes over 20 percent of the average price for consumer goods.
“Commonwealth agencies have been watching this storm for several days, and we are ready to provide whatever support is needed to keep our citizens safe during this potentially dangerous storm,” Wolf said. “We encourage you to prepare now and keep your loved ones safe, and also avoid unnecessary travel.”
A Fast-Moving Storm
AccuWeather says one factor that will keep the storm from becoming a “snowmaggedon” is its forward speed.
It will be a fast-moving storm, AccuWeather predicts, which will keep overall snow totals down.
“All the ingredients are now coming together, and I really don’t see a way out of this for many cities across the Northeast,” AccuWeather chief on-air meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
“A fresh injection of cold air is already in place ahead of the storm,” he said. “When the Atlantic moisture gets pulled into the storm off the coast Wednesday, that’s when the storm will really get going.”
Municipalities in Berks began preparing for the storm on Tuesday with several declaring snow emergencies. Information on the snow emergencies is available on municipalities’ websites.
The county commissioners and President Judge Thomas G. Parisi decided to close all county-owned buildings Wednesday at noon due to predictions of severe weather.
County officials will monitor storm conditions and make a decision by 7 p.m. Wednesday on whether to reopen its buildings Thursday.
The county commissioners will hold a virtual meeting on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases with the Berks County Health Advisory panel Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. The commissioner’s virtual meeting scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. will push through, regardless of whether county buildings reopen.
Reading Mayor Eddie Moran advised residents to stay at home during the storm.
The city has opened its parking garages for residents to allow for removal of snow from its streets. Officials ordered residents to remove vehicles from emergency routes. Otherwise, they will face having them towed at the owner’s expense.
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Source: Reading Eagle