2010-03-04 / Local & State

Wild Pa. Winter Has Broken Records, Budgets

By Kathy Matheson ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Punxsutawney Phil was right.

The groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter on Feb. 2. Since then, it’s been quite a season, with many Pennsylvania communities witnessing their snowiest February ever.

Records have been broken, budgets have been busted, and Philadelphia has received nearly as much snow as Erie. And spring still is three weeks away.

The state was hit by four major storms this season, but the flakes fell more heavily in some places than others.

A storm during the past couple of days dumped more than a foot of snow on Scranton but left Philadelphia fairly unscathed; a storm that buried Philadelphia with 20 inches in December left Pittsburgh with only a few.

About a third of the state’s 67 counties are seeking federal reimbursement for snowfall expenses during back-to-back blizzards in early February, said Ruth Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

That does not include the storm that zipped through eastern Pennsylvania on Thursday and Friday, blowing a hole in budgets as it blanketed the region with up to two feet snow.

“Our budget’s just about exhausted,’’ said Michael Alkhal, director of public works in Bethlehem. “(And) we still have next December to deal with.’’

Unlike some cities whose fiscal years begin July 1, Bethlehem operates on a calendar year, Alkhal said. “Historically, it’s not too bad,’’ he said of December.

Tell that to people in Philadelphia, which on Dec. 20 got blitzed with 20.3 inches of snow. That was the start of what has become the snowiest winter ever in the city: As of Friday, 78.7 inches of snow had fallen; the average winter only sees about 19.

Erie officials seem happy to be measuring average snow – a stark contrast to last year, when the city received more than 12 feet, nearly breaking the record set in 2000-01. The average is about 7.5 feet, because of lake-effect snow.

“Last year was the worst,’’ said Peter Petrianni, chief of the city’s streets bureau. “Started in November, didn’t leave till April.’’

As of Friday afternoon, the city had received about 7 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

The story is similar in Allentown where, despite the record snow in February, the overall winter has been less remarkable. The nearly 60 inches that have fallen this season make it only the sixth-snowiest winter on record, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines told the Morning Call of Allentown.

Yet other towns are struggling to cope. In Uniontown, Mayor Ed Fike was helping clear snow from streets, parking lots and other facilities with a front-end loader on Friday. He estimated he’s helped scoop more than 600 truckloads of snow in the city, about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh.

It’s being dumped at a park and nearby sewage treatment plant, creating a pile of snow “that’s as big as a factory,’’ Fike said.

Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi says municipalities in his county near Pittsburgh have tallied $1.5 million in unexpected snow removal costs.

“It’s really been a budgetbuster for everybody,’’ Maggi said.

Municipalities in York County, in the central part of the state, are seeking more than $1.6 million in federal reimbursement for blizzard cleanup, said Brian Morrin, spokesman for the county Office of Emergency Management.

Pennsylvania last received federal disaster funds for a snowstorm on Feb. 14, 2003, Miller said.

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