DuBOIS — The first snow storm of the season brought rush hour and school bus traffic to a halt for several hours late afternoon Tuesday in DuBois and the surrounding areas.
The National Weather Service (NWS) based in State College forecasted 1 to 3 inches and some ice on Tuesday afternoon.
“They (NWS) were pretty good on the timing too,” said Sandy Township Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Bickel. “We knew it was coming. So we started preparing.”
Bickel said he talked to township Public Works Director Matt Cook, who said the township had a plan and was ready for the snow.
“They (township crews) were out early,” said Bickel. “They were out hitting the streets and the township. PennDOT you know has got quite a challenge being a state entity, trying to get some of our roads taken care of too. Their primary responsibility, of course, is I-80 and Route 322 and doing the best they could.”
Though accumulation was 1-3 inches, Bickel said the long travel delays were due to a lot of vehicle crashes happening all at once.
“We had two there right in front of Fullington back to back on Rockton Road, so it was closed,” said Bickel. “We had a couple of tractor-trailers jack knife on the Beeline Highway out toward Sabula, so that road was closed. And then, of course, we had I-80 eastbound on (mile marker) 107 that was closed. So there was no way to get out of town, and that’s exactly what happened.
“We tried to get all the truck traffic out, but we couldn’t get them to Rockton, so we had to send them through town on Liberty Boulevard and out towards Luthersburg,” said Bickel. “There was nowhere to put the traffic and that was a real issue. So we got the volunteers out, we tried to help with the lights, but you can’t move traffic when it’s not moving. There’s nowhere to put it. So we had a real challenge. I think we did well. I didn’t hear of any issues other than, we had three buses of school students.”
Bickel said the school buses were trying to get the students home to Treasure Lake and Penfield.
“Ironically, I just got the new DuBois school’s emergency action plan, their EAP, which everybody has, and that’s what we bring out when we have emergencies,” said Bickel. He said his first call was to Transportation Director Andy Edinger.
“We started working together to try to get these kids home. So we had a really good plan, but what are you going to do? We can’t walk them out of there. We can’t get to them. They were stuck on Beeline Highway with everybody else, but they had contact with the buses. Everything was good. The kids were well behaved and they all got home, but some of them not until six o’clock I think,” said Bickel.
Bickel said in the future he hopes that more people stay home in the inclement weather.
“Stay home, drive slow, make sure you have good wipers and good tires, and it just slipped sliding away yesterday,” said Bickel.
Bickel said the compression in the beginning was bad, causing the roads to become slick right from the get-go of the snow.
“I don’t know how many fender benders we have. We probably lost count. But the good thing is, and I know PennDOT’s a state entity, they have a contract awarded already to install equipment at every intersection at the lights,” said Bickel. “That’s going to happen this winter, if not in the spring, that they’re going to put timers like on the lights to get the truck traffic through this town from one exit to the other, from Falls Creek to DuBois. They’re going to try to get this traffic moving through here because the traffic has a right. We can’t stop them. So you know that’s going to be tough.”
Bickel noted that Clearfield County is meeting Thursday to have an incident command system set up for emergencies strictly in the county.
“We’re going to start manning them with all the positions, all the emergency support functions, and the sewer and the water people,” said Bickel. “Things are looking good, but boy, it was just, reality yesterday set in. We had four accidents and the rest is just tractor-trailers becoming stuck.”
Sandy Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rob Burgeson said the department responded to a crash on the Rockton Road by Fullington Bus Co. and crashes at mile markers 105 and 107 on I-80.
“A lot of the traffic was due to I-80 but the detour routes either got tractor-trailers stopped on the hills, and that hampered things,” Burgeson said. The fire department was out from 2:45 p.m. until 8 p.m.
The first significant snowfall is always a period of trials for everyone, and especially the people that are driving, said DuBois City Manager John “Herm” Suplizio. “People have to understand that when that first snowfall hits, we have to take a little bit more caution, drive slower, things like that. Obviously we had many backups in the area and traffic jams in the area because Interstate 80 was closed. A couple of the main routes were shut down for a while and people just couldn’t get around or out of town. Our crews were out from when the first snowflake hit, our crews were out, putting salt down and plowing.
“We’re going to experience this for the next several months,” said Suplizio. “Snow storms, ice, wind, temperature, that all plays into it. So just remember, give yourself a little bit more time where you’re trying to go, wherever you’re trying to get to, and just use caution.”
Bickel also urged motorists to be ready for the winter weather ahead because it’s going to be a long one.
“You have to be ready, you have to have gas in your car, you have to have boots and winter clothes. It’s just something that people normally don’t think about,” said Bickel.
“Emergency response-wise, we got the plows out in the township. Emergency management was up and running, and the volunteer fire departments were ready to go doing the best they could, but everything was shut down,” said Bickel. “There were wrecks everywhere, and it was just dang near impossible to get done what you wanted to get done yesterday. But we did. We overcome those obstacles and we did well. To make it better, we will. We hope to make things better. It’s going to be a long winter, like I told you. Going to be a tough one.”