PHILADELPHIA – February 6, 2010 (WPVI) — Gov. Ed Rendell declared a disaster emergency in Pennsylvania on Saturday as a winter storm brought heavy snow and gusty winds that cut off power to tens of thousands and forced road closures.
The governor’s declaration allows officials to bypass bid and contract procedures to deal with the emergency. Pennsylvania National Guard forces had been deployed to help state police, Rendell said.
Pictures of the snowstorm hitting the region
View all 48 photos
“This is a pretty fierce storm!” Philadelphia International Airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said, adding that crews had been battling blizzard and whiteout conditions to try to clear runways and other areas. Most airlines were not planning to operate before 2 p.m. Saturday, and three-quarters or more of the day’s flights could be canceled, she said.
About 17.8 inches of snow have fallen in Philadelphia, according to the National Weather Service, and totals are even higher to the west, with 28 inches in Upper Strasburg in Franklin County, 27 inches in Glen Rock in York County, 26 inches in parts of Blair and Somerset counties and 25 inches in Cambria County.
In western Pennsylvania, Allegheny Power reported nearly 120,000 customers without power and Duquesne Light had another 51,000 without power.
Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania also declared a state of emergency and urged all nonessential vehicles to stay off the roads to clear the way for emergency workers. Pittsburgh International Airport closed about 6 a.m. but expected to reopen at noon.
Several interstates were shut down overnight as stuck tractor-trailers or downed power lines blocked roads, and I-376 leading out of Pittsburgh toward Ohio remained closed Saturday, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Struzzi said. Emergency workers said secondary roads were mostly impassable.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said the commonwealth’s system of toll roads remained open but had several trouble spots, namely between Donegal and Somerset counties in western Pennsylvania. Officials urged anyone planning on traveling to reconsider.
Larry Struble, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said the storm was on track to be the city’s fourth-highest snowfall on record.
Philadelphia also declared a snow emergency, banning cars from being parked on certain streets to ensure access to emergency vehicles.
“We stocked up on milk; we’re just waiting for pastries,” said Betty Ortiz, owner of Spruce Street Espresso, which had three customers who braved the drift-laden streets for an early cup of coffee.
Ortiz, a New Jersey resident who stayed in the city overnight so she could open the store Saturday, had just gotten back Wednesday from a trip to coffee farms in Nicaragua and El Salvador and was struggling to adjust to the cold.
“It’s a shock for me after 80-degree weather,” she said.
On Dec. 19, a storm two days before the official start of winter dumped 23.2 inches of snow on Philadelphia, the second-highest snowfall since city records began in 1884 and higher than the city’s seasonal average of 19.3 inches