By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
The winter storm that struck much of the eastern U.S. Tuesday and Wednesday took its toll on local power lines and roads, with the weather being a factor in one traffic fatality.
The power outages occurred literally in slow motion as the wet heavy snow on tree limbs and lines, coupled with just enough wind, gradually caused them to reach the breaking point throughout the day on Wednesday.
At about 9 a.m. Penn Power reported it had 764 customers in Mercer County without power, but by 2 p.m. that figure soared to 2,700, said Chuck Jackson, the utility’s area manager.
“The trees are so heavy with snow that it steadily knocked down trees and limbs on the lines,’’ Jackson said. “When the wind started blowing, even though it was just a little bit, it caused anything that was weak to start falling.’’
Outages were widely reported throughout the county. Penn Power had 372 customers in Shenango Township without power, 278 in Hermitage, 297 in Mercer, 288 in Liberty Township and 304 in Sugar Grove Township.
Extra crews, 42 people in all, were called in from FirstEnergy Corp. companies in Ohio to help restore power, Jackson said. FirstEnergy owns Penn Power.
At the start of the day, Jackson said he thought nearly all of the customers without power would have their electricity restored by midnight Wednesday. But as the day progressed and the situation deteriorated, he wasn’t so sure that forecast would hold.
“This may go into Thursday morning,’’ Jackson said.
He warned people to stay away from downed power lines and to call the utility. Specially trained Penn Power employees were deployed to sites where downed lines were reported.
“They are trained to stand by and protect the wire to make sure nobody goes into it,’’ Jackson said.
Even if people come across a downed phone or cable TV line, they shouldn’t touch it; an unseen power line down the road could have fallen and electrified the other lines, he added.
By contrast Lawrence County fared fairly well, with about 300 customers without power early Wednesday afternoon. However, the greater State College, region got socked hard with snow and freezing rain, resulting in a huge number of homes without power.
Once utility crews finish in Mercer County they will be sent east to help restore power there, Jackson said.
Motorists driving throughout the area Tuesday night reported cars in ditches as the heavy snow caused slick conditions. The weather was blamed for a fatal crash Tuesday afternoon in Sandy Lake Township.
Snowfall in Brookfield was so heavy, the township declared a snow emergency with a parking ban in effect through 8 this morning.