A woman named Brandi Senkus submitted this photograph to WNEP. I believe it was taken Thursday or Friday along Route 11 in Berwick, Columbia County. You can see the traffic back-up caused by the closure of Interstate 80. Improper spelling aside, I think the sign says it all.
For more pictures of the storm, go to WNEP.COM and look for the Valentine's Storm slideshow.
Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, on the storm and everything that went with it:
- The height of the storm came on Wednesday afternoon, just as I was trying to make my way into work. The 18 mile trip took me about three hours, which included some time stuck in a snow bank until a passing wrecker pulled me out. That was on an entrance ramp to 81. I also got stuck in two other spots along the way. Fortunately, there were people around to push me out. Thank you.
- As harrowing as the trip to work was, overall, I was lucky. I made it to work safely, vehicle intact. And, thanks to my news director, I avoided getting stuck in the 17 hour backup along Interstate 81 by the airport. Just after I got unstuck from the snowbank, the ND called to tell me that the interstate was being closed and I should get off at the next exit. I did. The rest of the drive was no picnic, and I had to stay at the station until the following morning, but at least I wasn't trapped on an interstate.
- By the time I left for work on Wednesday afternoon, it was snowing steadily. We had already had a few inches of snow, followed by sleet and freezing rain. If the roads had been plowed at any point up to then, I couldn't see it. So much for PennDOT's promise that they were prepared and would "keep up" with the storm. It also seemed to me that there were a lot more vehicles on the road than there should have been. Maybe the state should have closed the interstates sooner, or maybe some people should have used some common sense and stayed home!
- The state needs to get its act together. As a news organization, we tried to give viewers the most accurate information possible. But, when PennDOT is telling you one thing, Emergency Management is telling you another, and drivers are calling from the road telling you something else, who do you believe? What do you tell people? Honestly, EMA and drivers were providing better information than PennDOT. The people in charge of the roads don't know the situation on the roads. How sad is that?
- This situation underscores the need for Pennsylvania to have a capable and credible lieutenant governor. According to the PA WEBSITE, "Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll has been appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell to chair the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council. As chair of this Council, Lieutenant Governor Knoll leads the interagency taskforce as it seeks to prevent, prepare for, and respond to natural and human-caused emergencies in the Commonwealth."
Basically, that means that the Lt. Governor should coordinate and be the "face" of the state's efforts to deal with a storm or any other kind of emergency situation. So, where was she? We didn't see her during the storm and we didn't see her during any of the other severe weather events that we've had recently. In fact, when was the last time we saw Knoll doing anything in a high-profile, public capacity (and by that I mean, when was the last time she did anything newsworthy)? What does she do?
If I recall, this emergency management facet of the lt. governor's job description was added about 10 years ago, during the Ridge administration. Mark Schweiker was lt. governor then. Later, when the coal miners were trapped in western PA, he was governor, but he was still out there as the unified voice. The updates, the information came from him. Pennsylvania needs someone to do now what Mark Schweiker did then.
- Pennsylvania is now a national embarrassment. A check of surrounding states revealed that none of them had any interstates shut down for extended periods of time - a couple hours at most. Even in Oswego, New York, where they have 12 feet of snow, traffic is moving and no one seems to be trapped in their homes because their streets haven't been plowed.
Yet, what do we have in Pennsylvania? Drivers stranded on interstates for hours and days! On Thursday night, the situation on I-78 was bad enough to warrant being the lead story on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson. The lead! A national news organization could find no more important story that day than the disaster that was Pennsylvania's highways. They even had a reporter live in Berks County! Everyone in the country now knows how poorly Pennsylvania managed this storm. It is never good to be the lead on ABC's World News.