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Surprise Snowstorm Staggers Traffic, Cuts Power To Thousands

January 21, 1986

Undated (AP) _ An unexpectedly heavy snowfall of up to 26 inches hit parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania early Monday, cutting electrical service to nearly 50,000 customers, closing schools and snarling morning traffic.

″Snow was expected but the amount of snow that fell was unexpected,″ said National Weather Service forecaster Jerry Orchanian in Charleston, W.Va.

″What they said on TV was 1 to 3 inches, but then they started hollering 3-to-5 and then 4-to-8,″ said Floyd Winkler, city garage dispatcher in Huntington, W.Va., an Ohio River city where motorists skidded through 7 inches of snow.

″It’s just a mess,″ Winkler said.

″We’ve had accidents all over the place,″ said Pennsylvania state Trooper Richard Marshall in Greensburg, Pa. The weather contributed to two Pennsylvania traffic deaths, police said.

Coopers Rock State Forest in northern West Virginia, near Morgantown, had 26 inches of snow. Fourteen inches covered the ground at Chalk Hill, Pa., and 12 inches fell at Johnstown, Pa. Southeastern Ohio got up to 7 inches of snow, the weather service said, and snow also made roads slippery as far south as the mountains of North Carolina.

″The moisture content was far more than we had anticipated,″ Orchanian said.

The heavy, wet snow pulled down tree limbs and power lines.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 customers of Greensburg-based West Penn Power Co. in southwestern Pennsylvania were without electricity Monday morning, said utility spokesman Bob Van Atta.

An untold number, probably several thousand, customers of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Light Co. also lost power, said spokesman Ken Scherer.

″The difficulty is getting around. Some streets are blocked by trees. Some streets are blocked by traffic,″ Van Atta said. ″We don’t know how much trouble there is yet, and this can continue as trees continue coming down.″

Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania also had several thousand customers without service, said spokesman Noah Halper.

Appalachian Power Co. said 14,600 customers in southern West Virginia were without power at the peak of the storm, while Monongahela Power Co. said about 4,000 northern West Virginia residents were hit by outages.

Power was being restored Monday afternoon, officials said.

In southeastern Ohio, B.J. Smith, a spokeswoman for Ohio Power Co., said some 11,000 customers lost electrical service, and Fred Deskins of the Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Co. said some 3,000 of that utility’s customers were without power.

″All of our outages are because of the heavy snow and limbs falling out of trees,″ Deskins said.

Public schools closed in more than 20 West Virginia counties, and acting West Virginia University President Diane Reinhard closed that school in hilly Morgantown, which got about a foot of snow.

WVU Hospital and Monongalia General Hospital sent four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up employees unable to get to work because of the snow, and Steve Pickett, WVU Hospital’s associate administrator, said some night-shift workers were held over until daytime employees arrived.

Monongalia County sheriff’s deputy Dan Powell said officers were authorized to keep cars without snow tires off the roads around Morgantown and other drivers were ″strongly encouraged″ to stay home.

Schools closed in western Maryland’s mountainous Garrett County, where up to 8 inches of snow fell, and slippery roads led to closure of schools in at least five counties in North Carolina’s northern mountains. Most Ohio schools were closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Port Authority buses around Pittsburgh were up to 45 minutes late because of hazardous conditions, said spokesman Rick Hannegan. ″Some buses are hung up in the ice and snow and can’t get anywhere,″ he said.

Towing companies were busy but spokesmen in West Virginia said national and state observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday allowed many motorists to stay home.

The winter storm was in sharp contrast to West Virginia’s weather over the weekend, when temperatures ranged into the 50s and low 60s. And temperatures were expected to quickly return above freezing.

″The weather is sort of see-sawing back and forth,″ Orchanian said.

And in even sharper contrast, a heat wave hit the central Plains. The weather service said Oklahoma City hit 72 degrees just after noon Monday, one degree above the old record set in 1906, and later rose one more degree. In Texas, Amarillo hit a record high of 78; Lubbock’s high of 73 bested the old record of 72 set in 1911, and Wichita Falls warmed to a record 80.

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