Major storm moves into Philly region, brings snow, sleet
A driving nor'easter that moved through overnight into this morning dumped a foot or more of snow in some areas before changing to sleet, making driving treacherous and paralyzing SEPTA bus service -- with another phase of snow on the way later.
The storm plowing up the Atlantic Coast is an a quiet period, but is expected to possibly drop another two inches of snow and sleet tonight before ending early Friday morning.
Many Philadelphia-area residents say they're growing weary of the snow -- today's storm marks the first winter the city has had four snowfalls of six inches or more -- but are coping as best they can.
Chris Holly said she's tired of the bleak, troublesome winter and the transit delays accompanying her commute this morning, but thinks public transit and Streets Department workers have generally done a good job this winter.
"This is exactly what I was expecting," she said while waiting for a delayed train to Chestnut Hill. "You have to keep a positive attitude. It's Mother Nature."
The brutal weather was also impacting businesses as tens of thousands of commuters stayed home, the city shut down, and malls closed one after the other. Many roads remained empty at rush hour and beyond. The few brave pedestrians who ventured out faced slick sidewalks and crosswalks deep with slush.
Early this morning plows were having trouble keeping roads and lots cleared as large flakes fell. Philadelphia International Airport recorded 9.8 inches of snow as of 1 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
By late morning, the weather service said, more than a foot of snow was reported in multiple places throughout the region, including West Rockhill Township in Bucks County; New London, West Caln Township and Exton in Chester County; Graterford in Montgomery County; a Philadelphia fire station and Pennsauken in Camen County. A number of other locations saw 10-plus inches.
Some areas changed over to sleet by 7:15 a.m.
The highest snowfall total came in Uwchlan Township in Chester County: 16.3 inches.
Heading into this storm, 43.3 inches of snow had fallen in Philadelphia this winter. Today's additional snowfall would push it to the fifth-snowiest winter ever recorded - with more than a month of winter remaining.
Schools and government
Widespread closures and cancellations were the norm this morning. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency last night in anticipation of the storm. The Philadelphia School District and Archdiocese closed schools for the day, as did hundreds of other districts.
City of Philadelphia offices and courts are also closed, and inmate visits are canceled at Philadelphia jails.
As of early afternoon, no decision had been made about whether Philadelphia schools and government offices would reopen Friday.
About 700 workers from the Philadelphia Streets Department and Philadelphia Parking Authority will have 400 pieces of plowing equipment working through the storm’s duration.
A state of emergency has been issued in New Jersey and all state offices are closed.
All government offices and courts are closed in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.
Many municipalities have also declared snow emergencies or closed government offices.
Most colleges in the area have canceled classes today. Some, like Rutgers University, had planned for delayed openings, but later closed entirely.
Road conditions were rapidly deteriorating and were expected to get worse as the snow changes to rain or freezing rain later this morning.
PennDOT issued restrictions for certain types of large trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles on Interstates 76, 95, 476 and 676 in the Philadelphia region, but those restrictions were lifted early this afternoon..
Speed limits have been reduced to 45 mph on those interstates, as well as on U.S. Routes 1, 30, 202 and 422, and State Routes 63, 100 spur and 309.
Speed restrictions were also put in place for the New Jersey Turnpike, where the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph.
Officials said the rapid snowfall rate was making plowing difficult.
"The rates of snowfall are making it a challenge to keep our roads clear," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said. He said National Guard members have been called up to provide support if needed in Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Northampton and Philadelphia counties. The Guard has four-wheel-drive ambulances available to assist local EMT crews, he said.
In Philadelphia and other places where snow emergencies are in effect, motorists can't park on snow emergency routes.
Primary and secondary roads in Philadelphia have been plowed and are passable, the Streets Department said, but it will likely take two to three days after the storm to clear all residential streets.
Nearly 70 percent of flights at Philadelphia International Airport were canceled. Nutter said early this afternoon that just one runway at the airport was open, but four were expected to be open by the evening.
SEPTA suspended all bus service beginning at 10 a.m. The agency said it planned to restore service on 10 routes -- 6, 14, 17, 21, 23, 52, 56, 59, 66, 79 -- from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"We have too many buses that are getting stuck," Jeff Knueppel, a SEPTA deputy general manager, said at a news briefing. He said the stranded buses also impeded the city's ability to clear streets. Knueppel said the agency hoped to have some buses running again later today, but was unsure when or if that would happen.
At noon, SEPTA suspended all Customized Community Transportation (CCT) service, except for dialysis patients and customers who traveled on CCT earlier in the day and need to make a return trip.
The transit agency also said riders on Regional Rail should expect delays of at least 60 minutes. Knueppel said rail lines would begin shutting down early this evening, at about 10 p.m.
PATCO also adjusted its schedule for the storm, saying trains would operate every 15 minutes from 5 to 7 a.m., every 10 minutes from 7 to 9 a.m. and every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The agency also said trains would run at slower speeds.
N.J. Transit said it would cross-honor bus, rail and light rail passes and tickets system-wide. Rail service was likely to see delays of 10 to 15 minutes, the agency said.
Some Amtrak routes through Philadelphia are running on reduced or modified schedules today, including the Acela Express, Northeast Regional and Keystone routes. Other long-distance trains through the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, including the Crescent, Palmetto and Auto Train routes, are canceled today.
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge's pedestrian walkway is closed.
An ice storm last week left hundreds of thousands of people without power,many for days. But outages did not appear widespread from this storm, with utilities reporting that a few thousand customers across the region lacked power.
Other sites and attractions throughout the area, including several malls, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Zoo, the National Constitution Center, the Penn Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary and the Franklin Institute, are also closed today. Some malls were opening late.
Philadelphia's Free Library system is closed today. Other regional library systems, such as Camden County's, are also closed.
Check back for details of the storm as it develops and follow a live chat with John Bolaris for up to the minute forecasts.
People were trying to make the best of the latest winter treachery.
Francesco Bellafante usually drives from his home in East Kensington to work in Wilmington, but took the El and Regional Rail to avoid the treacherous roads.
"I'm trying to enjoy the novelty of it," he said at SEPTA's Market East station.