A powerful winter storm that claimed at least six lives in the Midwest arrived early Wednesday in Williamsport, packing high winds and heavy snow mixed with sleet and freezing rain.
The worst is over, but not before scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts as whiteout conditions persisted late Wednesday night.
One troubled area was in the 1900 block of Route 973 West in Lycoming Township where two oversize-load flatbed trucks carrying equipment became stuck.
"They shouldn't have been on the road at all. It is illegal to have such vehicles on the road during inclement weather," Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William Solomon said.
"It wasn't like they didn't get some kind of warning. They (the National Weather Service) have been talking about this storm for a couple days now," Solomon said Wednesday night.
The road was shut down for at least three hours because it was impassable until the trucks could be moved.
Tips for winter driving, as provided by PennDOT, include:
Slow down and drive based on conditions. Leave for destinations earlier.
Give vehicles ahead distance to allow for stops and accidents.
Clear windshield and wipers of snow and ice and keep headlights on when using wipers.
Carry a cellphone, blanket, water and non-perishables.
Don't pass snowplow vehicles.
Be patient. Major highways get plowed every two hours. Less traveled roads might require longer periods between plow passes.
"We had cars all over the place. It was a real mess," Solomon said.
Conditions were so treacherous on Route 15 that the road was closed from the McDonald's restaurant in South Williamsport to Route 54 for a very short time until state Department of Transportation crews could plow the road.
In many cases, mishaps occurred when motorists simply slipped off the road and landed in a ditch. Such was the case of driver who lost control of his vehicle in the 100 block of Pinchtown Road in Clinton Township.
"We were able to pull his vehicle out and he was on his way," township Fire Chief Todd Winder said.
Hours after the storm began some roads remained very difficult to travel, even for emergency vehicles.
"We're stuck in snow," one firefighter said over the radio as the emergency responders were trying to make their way along a section of Bloomingrove Road.
A section of Route 287 was down to one lane following a two-vehicle crash in the 2000 block about 6:15 p.m.
"These roads are just terrible. Holy cow, I haven't seen road conditions this bad in a long time," Nippenose Valley Fire Chief Dean Miller said Wednesday night when he returned from handling a minor woodworking-garage fire in Nippenose Township.
"PennDOT is out there, they are trying. However, the snow has been coming down so fast they just can't stay ahead of it," Miller said.
"I think a coating of ice hit the roads as the snow was falling," Miller said. He estimated that at least 6 inches of snow had fallen by early evening.
The National Weather Service forecast that Williamsport would receive 4 to 8 inches of snow and that areas north of the city would get upward of 11 inches by this morning.
Another less powerful snowstorm is set to arrive late Friday night and continue Saturday, with up to 2 additional inches forecast, said Rich Grimm, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College.
In Williamsport, at least a dozen trucks equipped with plows were being used, said William C. Wright, general manager of Streets and Parks Department.
Additional trucks in reserve were available in case of breakdowns.
In Montoursville, PennDOT activated its incident command center and manned it until needed, said David Thompson, safety press officer.
The center monitors crews and road conditions. Crews have plenty of salt and brine, Thompson said.
The storm was welcomed by skiers.
It's really good for us," said Mike Knefley, general manager of the Ski Sawmill Family Resort near Morris.
The fresh snow provided a powder to the base giving skiers conditions like the mountains in the Rockies, he said.
- Sun-Gazette reporter Philip A. Holmes contributed to this report.