Schools close, officials declare emergencies as storm bears down on Phila. region

Déjà snow all over again: Shirley A. Dash picks up a new snow shovel on Sunday, because her "other two shovels are done." Yet another snowstorm rumbled through the region late Sunday and early morning.
Déjà snow all over again: Shirley A. Dash picks up a new snow shovel on Sunday, because her "other two shovels are done." Yet another snowstorm rumbled through the region late Sunday and early morning. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 04, 2014

As another winter storm rumbled toward the region Sunday night, schools closed, officials declared emergencies, plow trucks rolled - and winter-weary residents searched for salt, all the while yearning for signs of spring.

Philadelphia public and Archdiocese schools announced they would close Monday. So did Lower Merion, Radnor, Upper Darby and other suburban districts. Several in Chester County announced two-hour delays. In South Jersey, the list of Monday closures included Cherry Hill, Lenape, and Washington Township schools.

Mayor Nutter didn't wait - in late afternoon he declared an official snow emergency in Philadelphia starting at 10 p.m., and said no trash would be collected Monday. City offices will open two hours late. Courts will be closed.

Just after 9 p.m., Gov. Christie, too, declared a state of emergency for New Jersey, authorizing his emergency management director to coordinate storm preparation, response and recovery efforts with county and municipal operations. He closed state offices Monday for all non-essential services.

Philadelphia International Airport announced a "reduced schedule" until noon Monday. SEPTA geared up for "winter-weather related detours and route curtailments" starting at 4 a.m., the transit system's public information manager, Manuel S. Smith, said in an e-mail. He urged commuters to check www.septa.org or call 215-580-7800 for details.

Villanova and West Chester Universities canceled Monday classes. So did Penn State's Abington campus. Temple delayed the start of most morning classes until 10 a.m.

Earlier in the day, with temperatures in the 40s and the flakes still far to the west, David O'Keefe called out to an employee in the parking lot of the King of Prussia Home Depot: "Any salt?"

After the last storm, O'Keefe only had half a bag left, and he figured he'd need more.

But there, as elsewhere, the answer was the same. "No."

O'Keefe, of Narberth, had already been to three other stores, and he figured he'd try a few more. "I'm going to keep at it," he said.

Others improvised. Inside Home Depot, service desk associate Linnett Saraiva said some people were buying crystallized solar salt for water softeners, hoping that would do the trick.

Otherwise, customers had bought a few generators that morning, but as for the rest of it - shovels, snowblowers and the like - the store was out.

But hey, there were plenty of primroses, lawn mowers, fertilizer spreaders and patio furniture sets.

"We're already in spring mode," Saraiva said. "Our garden section is supposed to open in two to three weeks."

At the Lowe's in Oaks - no salt there, either, said assistant manager Ron Schmalle, but plenty of hummingbird feeders and barbecue grills - John Snopkowski of Havertown was ever hopeful. He was buying vegetable seeds.

On Monday, he said, while he's out dealing with the snow, his wife will be inside planting peppers and tomatoes in seed-starting trays.

But meanwhile, he was off to the RV show nearby. If ever there were a place for staving off the winter blues that comes even close to the flower show, it would be here, where people could indulge their fantasies about heading for the highway, following the sunset, getting to their favorite getaway.

"People are getting their tax refunds back - they're ready for spring," said Eric Hunsberger, sales rep for Stoltzfus RV and Marine in West Chester. And their common refrain: When will all this end?

Not any time soon, according to the National Weather Service, which was calling for sleet and snow Sunday night, all snow Monday, bitterly cold weather after that - and perhaps more snow Thursday.

For this storm, PennDOT instituted a "full call-out," which meant 415 trucks to roll out. Within the southeastern district, about 25,000 tons of salt were available. Next week, several districts will divvy up an additional infusion of 35,000 tons.

"So we're going to have plenty of salt" to get us through this storm and . . . gulp . . . any others that may come, said spokesman Charles Metzger.

But all this is not without financial repercussions.

At the start of the season, the five-county southeastern district had a budget of $24.5 million for "winter operations."

Even before this storm, it had blown by that, to the tune of $28 million spent. The district shifted funds from other areas to up the budget to $31 million.

As they have done many times this winter, townships, residents, and others battened down the hatches. Lower Merion, for instance, declared a snow emergency beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday - alerting residents not to park in cul-de-sacs or on emergency routes.

Not so for Philadelphia's annual bash of bloomery. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society announced that the flower show would go on, and discount tickets of $20 - which can be used any day of the show - are available online at www.theflowershow.com through midnight Monday.

Utility crews in both states were standing by.

"As soon as it appears we need to activate them, we will do so," said Peco spokeswoman Romona Riscoe Benson. The company opened its emergency response center in Plymouth Meeting at noon.

Given that snow estimates were trending downward late Sunday, Benson said Peco officials weren't sure what to expect.

Whatever happens, "we will respond as quickly and safely as we can," she said. (People who lose power should call 800-841-4141 or report online at www.peco.com.)

Likewise, PSE&G is taking an "all-hands-on-deck approach," said Jennifer Kramer, spokeswoman for the utility that serves much of New Jersey. "We've pre-arranged to have additional manpower ready to assist us ... and we have extra supplies, such as poles and transformers, on hand."

Customers with power outages can contact them at 1-800-436-7734 or www.pseg.com.


sbauers@phillynews.com

215-854-5147 @sbauers

www.inquirer.com/greenspace

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