Icy Mess Downs Trees, Knocks Out Power, Stops Traffic

The second winter storm this week knocked power out to almost entire counties and caused traffic problems from major highways to small side streets thanks to downed trees and icy conditions.

Of course, you might be sitting in the dark as you read this.

The icy conditions knocked out power to more than 600,000 customers -- more than 83 percent of PECO customers in Chester County and about 57 percent of PECO's Montgomery County and Bucks County customers -- around the region as ice weighed down power lines and caused branches to break.

If you see exposed wires, don't touch them -- instead call your local utility provider.

PECO officials say it could take multiple days to make all the repairs and, for some customers in heavily damaged areas, power could remain out through the weekend.

The widespread outages led officials to open warming centers in the area.

Aside from knocking out power, the downed trees are damaging vehicles and homes and causing injuries as one man was crushed by a falling limb

About 1/2 of an inch of ice fell in Wayne, Delaware County as Northeast Philadelphia and Trenton, N.J. reported nearly 1/3 of an inch of ice.

Abington Memorial Hospital and Springfield Hospital were both using backup generators after power was knocked out.

The icy mess caused wrecks around the region including crashes and downed trees on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), Route 30 and the Pa. Turnpike. A tree sprawled across U.S. Route 1 northbound at Maple Avenue in Bucks County causing delays.

PennDOT closed I-76 eastbound at the Blue Route (I-476) due to concerns about downed trees and closed U.S. Route 1 between I-95 and Route 213 due to a downed trees. The Pa. Turnpike also warned of downed tress in the lanes of the Pa. Turnpike's Northeast Extension and closed the road in both directions from Exit 236 to Exit 242.

Plenty of local roads were blocked by trees and, with power knocking out traffic signals, drivers should treat those intersections as four-way stops.

It wasn't much better on the rails. Amtrak suspended service between Philly and Harrisburg around 9 a.m.

Service was suspended along SEPTA's West Trenton Line and New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor due to wire problems on Amtrak's line that knocked out service for hours. SEPTA also said the Cynwyd, Paoli/Thorndale and Warminster Lines were suspended. They said to expect delays up to 30 to 40 minutes on some rail lines, trolleys and a handful of bus routes due to power issues.

"The issues that we’re having right now are trees," said SEPTA deputy general manager Jeff Knueppel. "And if you can believe it, the situation is actually worsening. Early this morning, the ice was on the trees... and now with more moisture, they’re getting heavier and they’re falling slowly, and breaking slowly and it’s causing us a lot of issues."

SEPTA said to track delays and cancellations on the SEPTA website but the site slowed to a snail's pace.

SEPTA spokeswoman Heather Redfern said the site isn't actually down but slowed due to increased traffic. She said SEPTA's IT team was addressing the problem.

A speed restriction and a ban on commercial vehicles was put in place for hours on the Pa. Turnpike and area bridges due to low visibility and slippery roads. More than 150 flights were canceled or delayed at Philly International. And, dozens of schools planned late arrivals or closures as the storm dropped ice on the region. (Philly public schools were already closed for an in-service day.)

The storm also closed area business and government offices including the Philadelphia Zoo and Montgomery County's government. The power outage also forced the Montgomery Mall to close until further notice.

A Winter Storm Warning was in effect for most of the Pennsylvania counties (with the exception of Philly and Delaware Counties) until 1 p.m. Wednesday. A Flood Advisory was also issued until 12:45 p.m. for most of South Jersey and New Castle County, Del. as heavy rain, snow melt and ice-covered storm drains combine to cause a concern.

By the time the storm moves out, forecasters say some parts of the area could get up to a half-inch of ice.

"The greatest icing threat is from Philadelphia to the north and west suburbs," said NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Bill Henley. "But you'll see it on surfaces before you hop on the road."

Bill also says that conditions should slowly improve as time passes.

"We will see slow improvement during the morning," he said.

He also advised drivers to be careful, especially in the north and west suburbs.

Slippery Roads

Due to slippery road conditions, officials with the Pennsylvania Turnpike banned commercial vehicles pulling double trailers as well as empty tractor-trailers throughout the Turnpike system. All tractor-trailers are restricted to the right lane only between the Breezewood and New Stanton exits.

Officials also reduced speed limits on the Turnpike to 45 mph for roadways for hours before lifting the restriction after 9 a.m.

Both the speed and trailer restrictions were lifted around 1:40 p.m.

Drivers were warned to stay alert for areas with snow, poor visibility and icy road conditions. They were also advised to allow plenty of space when driving near plow trucks and to never attempt to pass a truck while it's plowing or spreading winter materials.

In Lower Merion Township motorists were warned to stay off the road due to downed trees, power outages and slippery streets.

It also knocked out phone service to the Horsham Township Building and police station.

“Respect the Snow, Fear The Ice”

A small amount of ice can make walking and driving tricky, but higher amounts can wreak havoc on trees and power lines.

A half-inch accumulation of ice on power lines can add 500-pounds of extra weight, according to our sister network The Weather Channel. Ice can also increase the weight of branches by 30 times significantly increasing the potential for breaking and complete falls.

“Remember, respect the snow, fear the ice,” said Gary Szatkowski, of the National Weather Service’s Philadelphia/Mt. Holly Office.

Snow Also Fell

Snow is still falling in the Upper Lehigh Valley and the Poconos. Nearly 8 inches fell in Tobyhanna in the Poconos..

Allentown, Easton and most of the northern and western Pa. suburbs -- 7 inches fell in Bushkill Township -- got measurable snow before turning over to ice.

Philadelphia, the I-95 corridor and the nearby suburbs didn't see much snow but did get plenty of ice.

Only rain fell in most of far South Jersey and Delaware.

The storm is expected to move out early this afternoon.

A 3rd Storm Coming

After storm No. 2 moves out, a third system will move into the area over the weekend with the potential for more winter weather. Glenn says the track of that storm will be determined by what the second storm does.

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