Where was the plow?
Cars were stuck for hours in traffic on the hill that connects Lansford and Summit Hill. LISA HILES/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Christy Walck cleans her car off this morning along the 200 block of South Fourth Street in Lehighton. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS
Footsteps are seen in the snow in Jim Thorpe Thursday night. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
A plow truck spreads anti-skid material at Maple Street and Cumberland Avenue, Hometown, at the start of a snowstorm early Thursday afternooon. With temperatures at or below freezing in many places, roads iced up quickly, contributing to many fender benders reported in the area. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Snow and traffic were everywhere in Lansford. MIRNA GLEDHILL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Numerous motorists were caught in the clutches of Thursday’s winter storm.
The first storm of the season resulted in various backups, with some motorists being stranded in traffic for as long as five hours.
Angela Buckles of Summit Hill, was among them.
“I was stuck at the top of Bugzies Mountain, Route 902 for about a half-hour or more waiting for a PennDOT truck to come. I heard the truck had problems and had to go back to the garage. The snow was coming down so fast they couldn’t keep up with it. Thankfully I finally made it after going around lots of stuck cars.”
So, too, was Kelly Gott of Summit Hill.
“I sat from 1:15 to 4:30 p.m. at the bottom of (the) Summit Hill (hill) on (the) Lansford side. Not a plow truck in sight until 2:30 p.m. that had no salt came down one time and went up one time. Not another plow truck in sight. 4:15 p.m. another (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) plow truck came down. This one had salt. I believe this could of been handled a lot differently. PennDOT was well aware of the situation days prior and they weren’t ready for this.”
Lansford Police Sgt. Shawn Nunemacher said the conditions resulted in many vehicles being stuck on the Summit Hill/Lansford Hill.
“The snow and weather started falling so quickly, basically it was pretty hard to keep up with for PennDOT, the borough crews,” Nunemacher said. “The issue was PennDOT was cleaning up the hill, they only arrived with like a half a truck of salt, they couldn’t do the hill.”
Lisa Hiles of Hiles Brothers had a front-row seat to the traffic mess. She said, “Yes we pretty much saw it all yesterday on the hill.”
“It was the weirdest thing, it came on so fast, I literally left my dad’s house in Coaldale, was maybe a few flurries, came up to Lansford, and by the time I came up the hill in Summit Hill. I kicked it in 4-wheel drive,” Hiles said.
A UPS truck, buses and cars were stuck.
“All the small cars were the ones that really caused the problem. When one stopped, they were all stuck,” Hiles said.
One Hiles Brothers truck was caught from 12:45 to 4:30 p.m.
“Sporadically, they seemed to be able to let some people some down. People were walking up the hill, people were walking down the hill. It was crazy.” “I can’t fault the drivers, because they were behind people that shouldn’t have been out. Summit Hill was really kept well.”
Cars stuck everywhere
Summit Hill wasn’t the only place people were stuck. Several incidents took place on the Mansion House Hill outside of Jim Thorpe, closing the road several times.
People coming home from the Lehigh Valley last night reported anywhere from three to five hour commutes. Same with Monroe County commuters.
Gary Hoffman, Monroe County Director of Communications, said, “There were lots of vehicles that were stuck,” Hoffman said. “Interstate 80 was shut down, Route 33 was shut down.”
Hoffman said the storm resulted in a lot of traffic issues.
“People just abandoning their cars along the road, minor accidents,” he said. “I think there was lot of advanced warning, people knew about it for days.”
Hoffman said he hopes the first storm of the year serves as a reminder of what’s in store.
“Normally we get a dusting or inch or two,” he said. “Hopefully, we all learn from this.”
What went wrong?
The hourslong traffic backup wasn’t due to a lack of precautionary measures taken by PennDOT, according to spokesman Sean Brown.
Brown said they had their trucks out and pre-treated the roadways early Thursday morning in advance of the storm.
“We were very aware of what was going on,” Brown said. “We did everything there; we can’t keep the cars off the roadway.”
Brown said it was a situation where everybody was on the roadway at the same time, combined with snow coming down at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour during rush hour.
“With everybody out there, it makes it very difficult to be able to plow,” he said. “Everything backed up.”
Brown said conditions such as those that occurred Thursday sometimes make for not the smoothest of situations.
“When our plows are stuck in traffic, we can’t plow,” he said. “We don’t want to be behind the traffic, we want to be ahead of it.”
Elliot Abrams, senior vice president, AccuWeather, said the storm was well predicted as far as the timing of the storm and the amount of precipitation.
Caught off guard
“A lot of people were caught off guard by the intensity of the storm,” Abrams said. “People had gone to work and school, suddenly this storm hits, how am I going to get home.”
Abrams said it was the amount of snowfall in such as short span of time, combined with vehicles getting stuck in traffic, that made for uncomfortable situations.
“What was most astounding was how much snow came down in a short period of time, snowing at 2 inches per hour,” Abrams said. “People began to get stuck, plows couldn’t get to them, you had people getting stranded for hours.”
While it isn’t uncommon for snow to fall this time of year, Abrams said the amount of snowfall — between 8 to 9 inches on average — was a bit much for so early in the season.
Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator, said, “The issue was when the snow started, temperatures were down around 26, 27 degrees, the ground was very cold, all the roadways were very slick, which made it very difficult for traveling.”
Nalesnik added. “It was a bad time for traveling, there were a lot of accidents, cars got stranded, police departments had to close roads because cars were stranded in the middle of the roads.”
At least there were no large power outages.
“From my standpoint, we work in the emergency management office and monitor what’s going on in the county; we try to offer assistance as best we can from our 911 center,” he said. “Fortunately, there were no widespread power outages, fortunately we fared pretty well.”
Nalesnik said warmer temperatures will help things return more to normal.
“Now, it’s just the aftermath and getting the roads cleared away,” he said. “Fortunately the temperatures are above freezing, and that’s going to be a huge plus in getting the roadways cleaned up.”