Dangerous deep freeze follows snowstorm

An ice sculpture touting the Eagles as NFC East champions, left, is ready for debut. B1. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer Henry Claudio, above, and other workers prepare the aisles at Lincoln Financial Field for the game.
An ice sculpture touting the Eagles as NFC East champions, left, is ready for debut. B1. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer Henry Claudio, above, and other workers prepare the aisles at Lincoln Financial Field for the game. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 05, 2014

In Center City, blowing snow and 18-degree temperatures didn't stop 70 devoted Eagles fans from picking their way across frozen sidewalks to cheer at a midday pep rally.

In Camden County, officials pleaded with drivers to stay off dangerously icy roads, as schools closed across New Jersey.

In the Pennsylvania suburbs, commerce would not be stopped by harsh weather - the Plymouth Meeting, Willow Grove Park, Exton Square and Springfield malls all managed to open by about noon Friday.

The first frigid blast of 2014 left roads covered in a stubborn snow. The forecast for Saturday was better, but no bargain: mostly sunny with a high of 26, dropping to 20 at night.

The important news?

The Eagles expect to have Lincoln Financial Field and the surrounding parking lots cleared in time for Saturday night's playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. "Everything's going to be safe and clean," said team president Don Smolenski.

The storm's effects were severe in some places and relatively mild in others, complicated by wind and bitter temperatures. Children went out to play in drifts while homeowners went out for supplies.

"It's been kind of ridiculous,"said Steve Scartozzi, president of the Hardware Center in Paoli, where business was booming. By midafternoon Friday, the store had sold more than 400 bags or tubs of ice melt, along with two or three snowblowers.

One of the busiest places in the region was South Philadelphia, where about 400 workers were helping to remove snow from the stadium.

Crews in the seating areas shoveled rows and rows of snow into chutes that funneled thousands of pounds of flakes to ground level. From there, front-end loaders picked the snow up, took it out, and dumped it in the parking lot. The snow was then loaded onto dump trucks and hauled to the Navy Yard.

The Eagles estimated that they would remove from two million to three million pounds of snow from the stadium complex before all is done.

"Everything should be fine," said Tony Leonard, the Eagles' director of grounds.

Outside the Municipal Services Building, Mayor Nutter proclaimed "NFC East Championship Fly Eagles Fly Day," joining in a pregame rally.

"It's playoff time in Philadelphia," Nutter said. "Real football in real weather."

It was indeed perfect weather - for the Eagles ice sculpture on Thomas Paine Plaza. Fans insisted, though, that they didn't mind the cold. "I love my Eagles," said Monty Gee, 44, of South Philadelphia, dressed in a green wig and Eagles jacket. "I had to represent."

Many Philadelphia streets, including thoroughfares such as Market Street, remained coated in snow and ice. Nutter said crews were working day and night, and other officials said primary routes were expected to be cleared by Saturday.

The region's snow totals - generally five to nine inches - landed a few shovel-loads above the high-end forecasts. One reason: What was supposed to have been an hors d'oeuvre ended up rivaling the main course.

Some snow was forecast for Thursday evening, as a system from the Ohio Valley consolidated with one off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Instead, steady, accumulating snow, incited by strong winds in the upper atmosphere, developed almost immediately in the evening peak commuting hours.

The result was Philadelphia's second major snowstorm of a strange winter season. After two relatively mild winters, the current seasonal total stands at 20.2 inches, close to the 22-inch season average.

The storm left six to 10 inches across South Jersey. National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Bunker said the type of snow - light, fluffy, and easily blown by wind - was creating low visibility that made driving treacherous.

"Temperatures are so low that anything that melts from the roads [that are] being treated is likely to refreeze and create some really slick, dangerous spots," Bunker said.

Camden County Freeholder Ian K. Leonard, liaison to the county Public Works Department, couldn't have agreed more.

"We're asking anyone that doesn't have to be on the roads to stay home," he said. "It makes it a thousand times harder for crews to operate the plows at a decent pace when there is traffic."

About 80 trucks and 100 county workers - including Leonard, who operated a plow - worked around the clock on the county's 400 miles of roads beginning at about 7 p.m. Thursday and continuing all day Friday.

"There's a lot of snow, but what makes it worse is the bitter cold," Leonard said. Salt and brine become less effective in low temperatures, "and then it's all just going to refreeze overnight. So it's a very treacherous situation."

In Haddonfield, 59-year-old Michael Teer was outside by 6:45 a.m., using his snowblower to clear his driveway and walk, and then the sidewalks, front walks, and driveways of a half- dozen neighbors, including a new homeowner who had yet to move in.

When he finished, his toes frozen but his heart full, it was nearly 10 a.m. "Now I've got to get to work," he said, heading inside to warm up.

At the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City Electric reported that fewer than two dozen customers lost power, mostly in Margate, where gusts reached 40 m.p.h.

In the Pennsylvania suburbs, nearly all schools closed, as did the courthouses and government offices in Delaware and Chester Counties. Offices in Montgomery and Bucks Counties opened late.

"All in all," said Bucks County communications director Chris Edwards, "we got through OK."


215-854-4906    @JeffGammage

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Chris Palmer, Michael Vitez, Jeff McLane, Vernon Clark, Michaelle Bond, and Mari A. Schaefer.

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