Serious wrecks, travel bans during wicked winter weather

Accident during a snow squall near Reading, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. (Photo: Amanda Lewis)

The ongoing nasty winter weather is showing no mercy in the Northeast. Besides brutally cold temperatures the past few days, with wind chills as low as 30 degrees below zero, the snow and wind just kept coming. Those conditions made driving nearly impossible in some areas, resulting in major wrecks.

A snow squall snarled traffic on a busy eastern Pennsylvania highway Wednesday afternoon around 1:30, leading to a 27-vehicle chain reaction crash involving trucks and cars (cover photo). Two big rigs, a dump truck and large box truck were involved, according to local police. NBC-10 in Philadelphia reported that the crash blocked all lanes on a short stretch of US-222 southbound in Wyomissing (Berks County), just west of downtown Reading. A snow squall produced heavy, blowing snow, creating whiteout conditions within minutes; similar to a blizzard, but on a relatively smaller scale.

Police said that a total of 24 people reported injuries. Fifteen victims were evaluated at the scene, nine were taken to Reading Hospital, and eight were taken to the Spring Township fire station where they reunited with their family members.

It’s been a rough couple of days in New York state, too, as the lake effect snow and strong winds kept coming. A 20-plus vehicle wreck on Wednesday afternoon, around the same time of the Pennsylvania accident, damaged tractor trailers and a state police car, as well as stopping traffic for a while near Batavia.

Despite the harsh conditions and limited visibility, some truckers stayed on the roads, violating a weather-related ban on all commercial tractor trailers that began Tuesday evening. The New York State Police Public Information Office told FreightWaves that, since the temporary ban began, officers have issued 55 tickets to truck drivers for violating the ban. Fines and points depended on the number and type of tickets issued.

In the same time span, New York State Police responded to nearly 750 vehicle accidents across the state that resulted in injuries and/or at least $1,000 in damages. These do not include accident reports from county and local law enforcement agencies. New York State Police also responded to nearly 900 calls regarding stuck/broken down vehicles.

The extremely cold air has turned snowy roads into icy ones, leading to very dangerous driving conditions. More heavy lake effect snow is falling today in and near Watertown (circled area on FreightWaves SONAR map below), where two to three feet could pile up in some spots . State troopers and other law enforcement officials are urging everyone to stay off the roads, if possible, until the weather warms up and roads can be cleared.

  SONAR Ticker: Outbound Tender Volume Index - Thursday radar at noon EST.
SONAR Ticker: Outbound Tender Volume Index – Thursday radar at noon EST.

Under the direction of Governor Cuomo, state agencies pre-deployed assets throughout the state and remain fully engaged in helping local governments respond. The State Emergency Operations Center also continues to be in a Level 3 activation to assist with any potential emergency responses. The current forecasts for western New York show above-freezing highs by Sunday, but slush and melting snow could turn into black ice as temperatures dip at night. Check here for the latest winter weather alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS).

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.