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Snowmageddon: Unforgiving winter storm blankets Pennsylvania city in 160 cm of snow — and more is coming

Snowmageddon: Unforgiving winter storm blankets Pennsylvania city in 160 cm of snow — and more is coming
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A holiday storm has blanketed the lakefront city of Erie, Pennsylvania, in more than 1.5 metres of  snow this week, burying streets and driveways in mountains of powder and ice, forcing residents to abandon their incapacitated cars and shattering several snowfall records.

The National Weather Service said the storm had dumped about 153 cm of snow on the area from about 7 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, when it began, to about 8 p.m. Tuesday. About 160 cm has fallen since Saturday, the weather service said — and more is on the way.

Tom Niziol, a winter weather expert at The Weather Channel, said the tally could approach 177 cm by Wednesday night before the storm tapers off. The snow is part of what he called a “lake-effect snowstorm.” Such storms occur when very cold air comes over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, he said. Heat and moisture then rise into the cold air to produce snow; the direction of the wind determines where the snow falls.

Rochelle Carlotti, 28, shovels steps near her home after a record snowfall on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, in Erie, Pa. Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via AP

In this case, he said, the narrow snow band parked itself over Erie, Pennsylvania — about 100 miles northeast of Cleveland.

“It’s like sticking one end of a giant fire hose into Lake Erie and pointing the other end at Erie, Pennsylvania — and leaving it there for 30 hours,” Niziol said.

Although he has lived in Erie his entire life and recalls heavy snowfall when he was a child, Joe Sinnott, the city’s mayor, said he had never seen it come down quite like this.

“We’re used to snow, don’t get me wrong,” Sinnott, 52, said. “But this amount, trying to deal with this, is very atypical.”

A man clears snow on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, in Erie, Pa. Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via AP

Sinnott spoke Tuesday evening by phone as he monitored the dispatch of snow plows from a municipal garage. He said crews had been working around the clock to clear main thoroughfares, but until about noon Tuesday, it had snowed so much that “every time we finish the main streets we have to circle back around and do them again.”

As a result, snow has accumulated on residential side streets, making it difficult for people to escape their driveways, he said. But even if they could leave, Sinnott noted, “everything is closed.”

He said he was not aware of any “critical incidents,” as of late Tuesday. The biggest problem, said Sinnott and David Mulvihill, the city’s director of public works, is that dozens of vehicles had been abandoned in the streets after they got stuck.

“They just leave the car there,” Mulvihill said in a telephone interview.

Erie, Pa., residents on East 24th Street dig out on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, after a record two-day snowfall. Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via AP

Officials said they had tapped city employees from across departments to help plow during 12- to 16-hour shifts. Officials from Pittsburgh, about 130 miles south of Erie, have offered to send equipment and personnel if needed, they said.

“It’s all hands on deck here,” Mulvihill said. “We got blasted, but we’re keeping up with it.”

Erie declared a snow emergency, and officials urged residents to stay off the streets. Sinnott and Mulvihill both said they were grateful the storm arrived during a holiday, when schools and many businesses were already closed.

Chandler Albert and her family were among those who decided to venture out with their four-wheel-drive vehicle despite the “4 feet of snow currently covering my grandmother’s house,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Their destination? The grocery store, Wegmans.

Their reason? They needed food to eat with their holiday leftovers.

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