Pennsylvania state officials and the National Weather Service recently provided information on the dangers of snow squalls, how alerts and warnings are issued, and how people can stay safe during these dangerous winter weather hazards.
“State agencies have been preparing for winter weather for several weeks with coordination calls and exercises,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “It’s important that the public understand their role in winter weather safety, not only to protect themselves and their loved ones but also first responders.”
According to the National Weather Service, a snow squall is a brief but intense period of heavy snow (up to 2 inches in 30 minutes), strong winds (30+ mph), and whiteout conditions (visibility less than ¼ mile). Snow squalls often occur on days with otherwise partly cloudy skies. Coming on so suddenly, snow squalls can catch drivers off guard and lead to major transportation impacts, including deadly multi-vehicle accidents.
“One of the things that makes snow squalls so dangerous is their tendency to produce icy roadways, or what we call a flash freeze,” said NWS meteorologist John Banghoff. “Because they come on so suddenly, snow squalls can catch drivers off guard and lead to major transportation incidents, including deadly multi-vehicle accidents.”
The National Weather Service, along with PEMA, the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT and the PA Turnpike have created a number of tools to help educate motorists about the dangers of snow squalls, including dramatic videos that show the impact of these hazards on roadways.
“The National Weather Service issues Snow Squall Warnings to alert for the sudden onset of life-threatening conditions encountered by highway travelers during snow squalls,” said NWS warning coordination meteorologist Jonathan Guseman. “If you are driving on an interstate when a Snow Squall Warning is issued, the best thing to do is to exit the roadway at the next opportunity.”
“Snow squalls can produce whiteout conditions that are difficult for everyone on the road to see other vehicles and even the lanes of travel. These conditions have led to major pileup crashes with multiple injuries and even deaths,” said Major Robert Krol, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Patrol. “Drivers are encouraged to use extreme caution while traveling during the winter months. Turn your headlights on, slow down, wear your seatbelt, and limit distractions in the vehicle.”
While PennDOT recommends not traveling during winter storms, motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting 511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 1,000 traffic cameras. 511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.