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First System-Wide Snowstorm in Two Years Strikes PA Turnpike

Home News Stories from the Turnpike First System-Wide Snowstorm in Two Years Strikes PA Turnpike 

Even though it’s been two years since the last major, system-wide winter storm, that didn’t phase PA Turnpike crews or dispatchers in the slightest.  

“Everyone here is very seasoned for the most part, and even when you have some new people, we also have the more seasoned dispatchers who can take the helm and point them in the right direction,” Traffic Operations Center Assistant Manager Janice Clea said. “I thought everyone did a great job. It’s just like riding a bike.”

And that was the response to Winter Storm Ember, which swept through Pennsylvania over the weekend, leaving a thick blanket of snow in some areas and a soggy mess in others.  

For Maintenance, responding to this big snowstorm was also like riding a bike – it just happened to be a very big, orange bike with a snowplow on the front.

“Our men and women stepped up, and our equipment worked great,” Manager of Maintenance and Field Operations Todd Tilson said. “I thought everything went very well with the storm. We had minimal disruptions or incidents.”

But since many have not plowed a significant amount of snow recently, Tilson said Maintenance crews went through some refresher training in the days leading up to the storm, reminding them how to work the equipment, ensuring they watch for overhead bridges and obstructions, and reinforcing safety messages. And those safety messages were particularly important this time.


“Not only was it our first storm, but it was also the public’s first storm for the season,” Tilson said. “We had to be defensive.”

In total, the hardest hit areas included District 2 in western Pennsylvania, seeing an average of 5 inches of snow, which was closer to 7 near the Kegg Maintenance Facility. The Northeastern Extension saw about 4 inches on the lower end and up to 8 to 10 inches in the Poconos.  

In the Traffic Operations Center, where dispatchers field *11 calls from motorists and operate radios to communicate with Maintenance and first responders, it’s all about being prepared.

Traffic Operations Center Manager Nathan Keel said they scheduled the electronic Digital Message Signs along the highway to inform motorists of the speed and vehicle restrictions that were in place, and through some new software, they were able to update those restrictions in quickly. Staffing wise, they’re sure to have a full roster plus some to help out with calls during the storm.

Though Winter Storm Ember storm passed in less than 24 hours, there was little time to recuperate. Another storm rolled through yesterday, bringing strong winds, rain, potential flooding and even some snow.

“It’s exhausting, but this is a team of professionals,” Clea said about the Ops Center. “They are a passionate group and they are very good at what they do. They handle whatever situation is thrown at them and take it in stride.”

The same can be said for the Winter Warriors, who cleaned up from one storm and were already preparing for the next.

“That’s just what Maintenance does,” Tilson said. 

By Steve Marroni, PA Turnpike Commission, Communications Specialist