The first snow storm of the season arrived early this year, sending students home from school and tangling up traffic across Berks County on Nov. 15.
“Like all the other towns, traffic was a mess,” said Kutztown Borough Police Chief Craig Summers who estimates Kutztown received about 7 to 8 inches of snow. “We had several accidents including one vehicle that ended up hitting a building. Numerous people got stuck on the roadway and the police and fire department spent a lot of time getting people un-stuck. I think because the forecast did not originally call for the amount of snow we received, many people were unprepared and/or were on the roads when they shouldn’t have been. This exacerbated the traffic issues throughout the region.”
Snow began to fall mid-morning on Thursday, Nov. 15, and started picking up speed by that afternoon with reports of slowed traffic and disabled vehicles affecting the region’s roadways. On the Northeast Berks News Facebook page, readers shared photos of the snow from their cars while sitting in stopped traffic.
Hamburg Borough Mayor George Holmes said the roads were a mess.
“Our roads crews based their response on the weather forecasts. That meant keeping some snow on the road to provide traction, instead of removing it all and creating an icy hazard later. The problem was more snow fell than anticipated, which made travel through thick snow difficult. That left road crews struggling to keep up with the snowfall and a bad commute for everyone.”
Holmes noted that there was no value in declaring a snow emergency once the storm was well underway. It would have added at least 200 cars to the Borough’s roads mid-storm and not have increased public safety to any measurable degree.
“I continue to be amazed at the selfless effort our first responders give each and every day to the community. Many are volunteers trying to help the rest of us carry on with our everyday routine. Additionally, our road crews put in long hours to clean up the streets. They watch the same weather reports as the rest of us and try to keep our citizens and first responders safe,” he said.
Hamburg Borough Police Chief Anthony Kuklinski estimated about 5 inches of snow fell on Hamburg but impact was minor.
“The Streets Department was adequately prepared for the weather event,” said Kuklinski. “There were two incidents that occurred at the same time on Route 61 between Grand Street and Fourth Street. Two tractor trailers slid sideways and blocked both south and north bound traffic lanes. Fortunately our towing companies were prepared and immediately dispatched heavy wrecking equipment to clear the traffic and return traffic to normal flow.”
Kuklinski recommends motorists and residents to prepare their vehicles for bad weather.
“Many of the vehicles that got stuck in the snow had bald tires on them. Windshield wipers should get replaced and keep the windshield solvent filled in your vehicle,” said Kuklinski. “Give plenty of distance from other vehicles. Carry a blanket, a shovel, some snacks and drinks in your vehicles.”
He also recommends keeping jumper cables and a good snow brush and ice scraper, as well as a bag or a container of salt or other melting material in the trunk of your vehicle.
“For those folks that live in town, whether or not a snow emergency is declared, it is a good practice to remove your vehicles and park them in off street areas so that the road crew can clean the roadways easily,” said Kuklinski.
Fleetwood Police Chief Steven J. Stinsky estimated about 2 to 5 inches of snow affected the Fleetwood and Richmond Township areas.
“Overnight and early morning hours there was some freezing but road crews in the borough and township did a great job staying ahead the storm and getting roadways cleared,” said Stinsky.
He reported that six vehicles were disabled during the storm (stuck in snow off roadway) and there were seven accidents reported with no injuries and two required the vehicles to be towed from the scene.
Area schools closed early on Thursday and returned on Friday on a two-hour delay. In some cases, schools started on a three-hour delay, such as Fleetwood.
Kutztown Area School District Superintendent George F. Fiore, Ed.D. said the district received reports from across the school district of snow accumulations of 8 to 11 inches.
Fiore explained that there are several factors that impact the decision whether to delay or close school when inclement weather arises.
“Our school district is 99 square miles, the largest school district in terms of size in the county. The weather conditions can vary across the school district where temperatures and precipitation can fluctuate greatly,” he said.
Daily, Kutztown school buses and vans conduct nearly 1,300 bus stops, travel over 3,200 miles, and transport nearly 1,400 students including KASD students, charter school students, and non-public school students.
“We also count on several municipalities and PennDOT to clear roads in a timely and safe manner. All of these combined factors inform our decision regarding an early dismissal, a school closure, delay, or on-time opening,” said Fiore.
He said Kutztown was fortunate to have students home and off buses before the heavy snow came down. Secondary dismissal was at 10 a.m. and elementary dismissal was at 10:45 a.m.
“Our bus drivers did a great job yesterday,” said Fiore. “My hats are off to them for the work they do for our students and their families. We did not have any issues with transportation yesterday.”
Schuylkill Valley Area School District Superintendent Cynthia Mierzejewski estimated about 6 inches of snow, possibly more. The district had an early dismissal on Thursday with Middle School and High School dismissed at 10 a.m. and Elementary at 11 a.m.
“We were very lucky in that we were able to get all of our students home with only minor delays. The storm came in much quicker and stronger than I think was expected and if we would have had been in school for much longer, I think that we would have had problems,” said Mierzejewski.
Unlike many other area districts who had a two-hour delay, SV closed school on Friday.
“We thought that if there was enough rain and rising temperatures, then a lot of the snow would be washed away. However, it seemed that the temperatures did not rise as much as predicted and we continued to get snow and ice,” said Mierzejewski. “That left some of our shaded back roads with ice and frozen slush. We had some roads in the district that still were going to be an issue, so we were not able to get the students to school safely.”
Mierzejewski is disappointed that the district had to use a snow day so early in the season, but felt it was necessary. Their snow make-up day is Jan. 21.
For youth across Berks, this early November snow storm meant getting an early start on some snow fun.
Nikki Wade posted on the Northeast Berks News Facebook page that they received about 7 inches of snow. While her husband uses a snowblower, she takes care of the house snow and their eight homeschooled children.
“We made cookies and my oldest son made an igloo and I made a headless turkey,” writes Wade. “I wasn’t done but too cold and ice stung.”
Erin Sarte said Nathan Sarte, age 8 of Bally, had a great time in the snow!
Michelle Karczeski said Gabe and Gavin Karczeski couldn't resist taking advantage of the beautiful weather and snow on their first snow day to create a colorful turkey in Morgantown and wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving!