Classes, flights canceled ahead of storm

Philadelphia declares snow emergency

Snow emergencies are being declared, classes are being called off and hundreds of flights are being canceled in advance of a snowstorm slated to hit the region overnight and Thursday.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the city would declare a snow emergency at 8 p.m., and there will be no class Thursday for students in the Philadelphia School District and Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools in the city. 

City of Philadelphia offices and courts will also be closed Thursday, with only essential personnel required to respond. City Council will not hold its scheduled meeting Thursday.

The Philadelphia Streets Department and Philadelphia Parking Authority will have 700 employees and 400 pieces of plowing equipment working through the storm’s duration.

All property owners are required to, within six hours of the snow’s end, clear a path of at least three feet in front of their property. Residents who shovel snow back into the street will face a fine from the Streets Department.

The city’s 311 call center will open at 6 a.m. Thursday. Downed trees should be reported to 311 unless they pose a true emergency.

Cars parked in snow emergency routes after 8 p.m. Wednesday will be towed. Those whose cars are towed are asked to call 215-686-SNOW to locate their vehicles. A list of snow emergency routes can be found here.

The PPA has announced that, beginning 5 p.m. Wednesday, six PPA-owned and operated garages will offer a $5 flat parking rate through the end of the snow emergency. To receive the discount, customers must bring their ticket to and pay at the PPA Management Office in each location. For a list of participating garages, click here.

Philadelphia trash and recycling collection will be suspended Thursday and Friday. Residents slated for collection must hold their refuse until next Thursday and Friday, when they can set out the material on regular trash day for curbside collection. There will be a regular sanitation collection next week, save for rear driveway collections, which will be suspended.

Other local municipalities in the suburbs have also declared snow emergencies in advance of the storm, as has the state of New Jersey.

The worst of the storm is expected to start overnight into Thursday morning. The National Weather Service issued a strong winter storm warning for Southeastern Pennsylvania, in effect 10 p.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Friday.

Snow is expected to spread into the region between 8 p.m. and midnight and continue into Thursday morning, when it will mix with sleet. The precipitation is forecast to change to rain and sleet for a time Thursday afternoon and evening, then turn back into snow Thursday night.

A total of six to 10 inches of snow and sleet is forecast for Philadelphia, with amounts of 10 to 14 inches possible in the far western and northern suburbs. Winds are expected to reach 10 to 20 miles per hour Thursday, with gusts around 30 mph.

The wet, heavy snow is likely to bring down tree limbs and electrical wires, causing travel snarls and widespread power outages, according to the National Weather Service. 

Pre-emptive flight cancelations have been rising throughout the day. As of early afternoon, more than 40 percent of Thursday flights are canceled at Philadelphia International, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. That number increased to more than 60 percent Wednesday night.

Travel along the East Coast has already been disrupted due to the storm. Freezing rain began falling in the Southeast early this morning, leading to widespread travel-related delays and cancelations

Statistics from the flight-tracking website FlightAware show that nearly 70 percent of flights into and out of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are canceled today. Half of flights to and from the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport are canceled.

Flights departing from or arriving at airports like Raleigh-Durham International and Reagan National have also canceled dozens of flights today.

Amtrak has also suspended some service in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions today due to the forecasted storm.

Some trains on the Crescent, Silver Star, Palmetto, Carolinian, Piedmont and Auto Train routes won't run today, though Amtrak said Northeast Corridor and other services through the Mid-Atlantic will operate.

SEPTA is taking preventative measures to keep as much service intact as possible Thursday. The agency will, at the end of regular service Wednesday night, run pilot trains on its Regional Rail lines, trolley routes and Norristown High Speed Line in a bid to prevent ice from accumulating on rails and overhead wires. SEPTA will also have crews armed with ice-removal equipment posted throughout the system.

SEPTA subway and el service will operate through the night Wednesday in lieu of the Night Owl shuttle bus service. Trains on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines will be stored in subway tunnels overnight Wednesday through Thursday to keep them out of the elements.

SEPTA will detour some bus routes starting 4 a.m. Thursday in an attempt to prevent vehicles from getting stuck on icy streets, stranding passengers and contributing to traffic backups.

Special attention is being paid to areas that are hilly or otherwise pose difficulties during winter storms. A list of the detoured lines, specific adjustments to each route and real-time transit updates will be posted on SEPTA’s website early Thursday.

For PennDOT, ice is the worst-case scenario, said Nick Martino, the assistant district executive for maintenance, as it affects trees and causes other problems, in addition to slick roads.

He said at a news briefing that the agency was planning extensive salting and plowing operations, and focusing on making sure highways remain open.

Nutter said the city has been pre-treating and brining major roadways, but still was expecting a "marathon" clean-up effort in the days after the storm.

Though the city has been hit hard by snow this weather -- officially, 43.3 inches have already fallen at the airport this winter, well above the average of 22 inches for this point in the season -- the mayor said it still has adequate supplies to face the storm.

"We have more than enough salt for this particular storm," he said. 

Local officials are urging residents to use caution when traveling tomorrow, and major attractions are preparing to weather drops in attendance if people choose to stay home during the storm.

The snow comes in the middle of the Philadelphia Auto Show, which began Saturday and runs through Sunday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Last March, the threat of snow was blamed for a downturn in visitors to the Philadelphia Flower Show. But auto show organizers say they're not too concerned.

Snow generally leads to lighter crowds that day, said Kevin Mazzucola, exective director of the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia, but the show often sees "stronger than normal" attendance the days before and after a storm.

"Out of nine days, if they can't come one day, they'll come the next," he said. "It affects the day it happens, then we get back to business."

The weather did force the cancellation of the Thursday morning showing of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey "Legends" circus tour, which was slated for 10:30 a.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. The circus is still scheduled to be in town through Sunday.

Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443 or Follow @phillynews on Twitter.