Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Freezing rain, cracked limbs, 583k without power

Story Highlights
  • More than 500,000 Philadelphia-area homes and businesses are without power.
  • Freezing rain caused tree limbs to crack, snap or topple over utility poles.
  • PECO figures show that this storm was among the utility's worst outage incidents ever.
Gallery: Winter Ice Storm Nika hits Philadelphia region

More than 500,000 Philadelphia-area homes and businesses are without power this morning, as freezing rain and flooding caused tree limbs to crack, snap or topple over utility poles - also helping to make the morning commute treacherous.

By mid-morning, PECO figures already showed that the storm was among the utility's worst outage incidents ever.

Gov. Tom Corbett said at a noon press conference that utility crews from out of state would be called in to help with the wide-spread outages. He said as Pennsylvania energy companies had received some 750,000 calls so far, but his office had yet to declare a state of emergency.

"We're going to continue to monitor the situation," Corbett said. "Our major concern is that it is supposed to go below freezing tonight. It's going to refreeze tonight and we want everyone to be careful on the roads."

More coverage
  • Interactive map of area power outages
  • How to prevent - and thaw - frozen pipes
  • Some merchants get power, others get anxious
  • In Chesco, elderly residents struggle through the storm
  • Bolaris: ‘Yukon energy’ could yield some snow
  • Photos: Storm slams Philly area
  • Emergency crews in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties were busy responding to calls most of the morning, with some hampered by slick roads, downed trees and live lines that had fallen to the ground. Utility crews restored power to some areas as others were going dark.

    Bucks County dispatchers said they were too swamped with calls to verify police radio reports of a tree that had fallen into a home in Warminster with possible injuries.

    Conditions varied widely with temperatures hovering near freezing -- a few degrees on either side. That appears to have made a difference. Suburbs north and west of Philadelphia faced slick conditions and widespread power outages, while South Jersey, although covered in plenty of ice, was warm enough that roads were mostly wet.

    "Far north, far west, that's where you're having the biggest problems from the icing," Jeffrey Knueppel, a SEPTA deputy general manager, said at a news briefing.

    Postman John Woodring wasn't deterred by the conditions. Wearing a white pith helmet to keep the melting ice off his wool watch cap, Woodring trudged through what remained of the nearly 11 inches of snow that fell earlier in the week in Cheltenham, Montgomery County.

    He carefully avoided paved surfaces, favoring paths where he could hear the comforting crunch of snow underfoot. He was taking precautions to avoid slips, or worse, breaking a leg, he said.

    "I'll be taking baby steps, dodging falling branches," Woodring said. "I couldn't go fast if I wanted to!"

    Power

    PECO's online outage map was showing that about 595,000 customers were without power in the Philadelphia area as of around noon. Outages were most widespread in Chester County, with more than 181,000 customers lacking power. That was followed by more than 180,000 customers impacted in Montgomery County, 138,000 in Bucks County, 67,000 in Delaware County and 27,000 in Philadelphia.

    Outages were fewer in South Jersey. PSE&G was reporting that Burlington County was the hardest hit, with about 8,000 customers there lacking power.

    Transportation

    Several SEPTA Regional Rail lines halted service this morning: The West Trenton Line is suspended due to a CSX train derailment, the Paoli-Thorndale and Cynwyd lines are suspended due to Amtrak power issues and the Warminster Line is suspended due to signal problems. Passengers should expect delays of up to 40 minutes on Regional Rail trains system-wide.

    Some SEPTA bus routes are being detoured.

    New Jersey Transit said rail, bus and light rail tickets would be cross-honored system-wide.

    Amtrak suspended Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg due to numerous weather-related issues.

    Reduced speed limits are in place on the New Jersey Turnpike: 35 mph between exit 8 and the George Washington Bridge and 50 mph between exits 3 and 8.

    PennDOT imposed speed restrictions on major highways for much of the morning rush, but normal speed limits were restored around 9 a.m.

    Downed trees were causing traffic disruptions and lane closures on major roads throughout the morning.

    Several dozen flights were canceled or delayed at Philadelphia International Airport, according to FlightAware.com.

    As the lingering mounds of snow melt into already saturated ground, flooding was also a possibility in many areas.

    Schools

    School closures did not appear to be widespread. In those areas hardest hit by the ice some districts did close, such as Cheltenham. Philadelphia schools were already scheduled to be closed for classes with only staff expected to report.

    However, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and many suburban school districts were opening later than usual. For example, Lower Merion Township. and Cherry Hill schools were opening two hours late. The archdiocese schools are operating on a one-hour delay.

    Some universities are also closing or operating on delayed schedules. Temple University, for instance, was opening at 10 a.m., and Rutgers campuses will open at noon. Villanova and West Chester universities, as well as the Montgomery County Community College are closed.

    Government

    Government offices in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties are closed today.

    Delaware County government facilities are opening two hours late.

    Philadelphia city offices are operating normally, though traffic courts are opening two hours late.

    Gov. Chris Christie has declared a state of emergency in New Jersey. State offices are closed for nonessential employees.

    Other

    Some major attractions are also closed or opening late. The Philadelphia Zoo is closed to the public. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is opening at noon and the Constitution Center is opening at 11 a.m.

    Forecast

    The National Weather Service is calling for a mix of  freezing rain and sleet before 1 p.m., with a chance of rain after that and a high of 38. So much of this morning's precipitation should melt. No real snow accumulation is expected.

    Check back for details as they develop.

    Emily Babay, Frank Kummer and Brian X. McCrone PHILLY.COM
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