PennDOT, PPL ready for up to half-inch of freezing rain in Lancaster County - LancasterOnline: Local News

PennDOT, PPL ready for up to half-inch of freezing rain in Lancaster County

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Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 9:09 am | Updated: 9:14 pm, Mon Feb 24, 2014.

For everybody who is tired of all the snow, how about some ice instead?

Freezing rain will greet us when we awake Wednesday morning, with as much as a half-inch predicted to glaze roads, sidewalks, trees and power lines.

It has the potential to create problems for commuters and interrupt power to homes and businesses.

PPL and state transportation officials were readying by putting chains on trucks and extra workers on standby Tuesday.

"It's certainly a big deal, in terms of trees and power lines," said Eric Horst, Millersville University meteorologist.

The latest in a round of wearying storms — following Monday's storm that left up to 9 inches of snow here — will arrive late Tuesday, somewhere between 10 p.m. and midnight, Horst said.

The storm will start as snow, then turn to sleet, and end with a long period of freezing rain, from about 1 a.m. to about 10 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning, in effect from 10 p.m. Tuesday to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The Weather Service is calling for 2 to 4 inches of snow and sleet, followed by .1 to .2 of an inch of ice in Lancaster County and the region south of Interstate 81 and Route 22.

AccuWeather also is calling for 2 to 4 inches of snow and "heavy ice," which may cause power outages, it said.

A number of factors will impact the amount of ice that will coat roads, trees and power lines, Horst said.

The system is a "jump-over" storm, which will track to the west and then jump over to the east of us, he said. In those storms, one area usually misses out on the worst of the precipitation.

If Lancaster County happens to be in that area, we could see as little as .1 to .2 of an inch of ice, he said.

Another factor is the intensity of the freezing rain. If it comes down hard, then some of the rain will just run off, as it can't freeze fast enough to surfaces, Horst said.

One positive factor for roads will be the snow and sleet that precedes the freezing rain, Horst and a state transportation department official said.

"If you just have a bare road, with ice it's more of a skating rink," Horst said. "If there is a slushy road, it's not quite the same thing. You could end up with more of a margarita on the road, than a skating rink."

Scott Tanguy, PennDOT maintenance manager for the county, said, "During normal operations, with just plowing, we usually have some snow on the roadway and that may be a benefit to us. ... A little bit of grittiness allows for a little more traction than a completely smooth black ice surface."

Tanguy said PennDOT will be using more chains on its trucks for Wednesday's storm. Usually plow operators who work the secondary roads have chains on their tires but Wednesday almost every, if not every, truck will have them, he said.

The storm could bring other problems, in addition to hazardous roads.

If we get just a glazing of ice, that likely will bring down dead limbs or just weaker power lines, Horst said.

If we get a quarter to a half-inch of ice, "That's when it becomes a significant problem," he said.

PPL has more than 300 employees available as its normal workforce to serve about 250,000 customers in Lancaster County, said spokesman John Levitski.

"All hands are on deck right now," he said, adding that PPL could pull in additional workers from around the state as well as outside contractors, if needed.

Ice poses a problem during storms not only from coating power lines and  trees, and bringing branches down on power lines, but also from vehicle accidents.

"It's vehicle accidents that create most of the problems, people crashing into poles, or into trees," he said.

If you see power lines down, or experience a power outage, Levitski offers these tips:

• Avoid downed lines and secure the area if you can, to keep others away from them.

• If using a portable generator, make sure it is outside and well-ventilated, and follow the manufacturer's directions.

• If your power goes out, report it by calling 1-800-DIAL-PPL.

"Don't assume your neighbor is going to call," he said. "Call in, and make sure you let us know."

The precipitation should be done by late morning and temperatures should rise by early afternoon, aiding in the cleanup, Horst said.

Thursday and Friday will feature temperatures in the upper 20s to low 30s. Saturday also will feature a high in the low 30s.

Then the next storm moves in Sunday. It will bring snow, but Horst said it's too early to say how much.

This system is a "split-flow" storm, and it could bring us anywhere from an inch to 10 inches, Horst said. By Thursday, forecasters should have a better feel for how much snow will arrive.

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