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Early winter blankets Valley

Staff photo / Ed Runyan A semi tractor trailer and three cars were involved in a crash on Interstate 80 westbound just west of Salt Springs Road on Tuesday. Injuries were minor and were the result of white-out conditions and backed up traffic ahead, said trooper Dan DeLuca of the Canfield post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The backup was caused by a bigger area of traffic crashes on Interstate 76 a few miles to the west, he said.

Mahoning Valley residents will have a new weather story to talk about today.

That’s because snow that caused a 50-vehicle highway pileup and one reported fatality on Tuesday was expected to end overnight — but temperatures now will drop.

Eric Wilhelm, meteorologist for WFMJ-21, said a new record low is expected today. “The snow will not be the story anymore. The new story is going to be about it getting cold,” he said.

Wilhelm said the record low for today is 17, but the temperatures are expected to be lower than that — in the low teens.

Despite temperatures in the 20s and 30s for the next few days, the forecast calls for clear skies with no snow expected for at least the next week, he said.

Wilhelm said the snowfall and lake effect snow Tuesday brought about 3 to 5 inches to most areas of the Mahoning Valley.

The first winter storm of the season caused havoc for drivers on Interstates 76 and 80 for the most of the day.

I-76 westbound from I-80 at state Route 46 to the Ohio Turnpike was closed for several hours after multiple crashes, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Canfield post.

TOUGH DAY

The patrol said a 22-year-old Youngstown man was taken from a vehicle to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital with life-threatening injuries, while a 62-year-old Springfield man was extricated from a commercial vehicle by Austintown fire personnel and was taken to St. Elizabeth with critical injuries. Charges are pending, the patrol said.

But later Andy Frost, fire chief in Austintown, told township trustees during a meeting that there had been one fatality in that I-80 pileup that the state patrol estimated involved 50 vehicles. Emergency crews had difficulty reaching the scene by ambulance or by helicopter, Frost said.

“I’ve never seen it to where we couldn’t get anything though either way,” Frost said. “It was a tough day on the interstate.”

Trumbull County 911 also reported about 30 non-injury crashes by late afternoon, since midnight; and 11 crashes involving injuries across the county.

“The poor driving conditions seem to be pervasive” across the region, a patrol dispatcher said.

The heaviest accumulation of snow was east of Cleveland, with some areas expected to get as much as nine inches by this morning, according to forecasts.

Ohio Department of Transportation crews worked to clear and treat roads around the state, but the thoroughfares continued to present dangerous conditions because of band after band of lake effect snow, said Justin Chesnic, public information officer for ODOT District 4.

In Weathersfield Township, a semi-tractor trailer was involved in crashes with three cars in the afternoon as a result of traffic backed up for miles on I-80 just west of Salt Springs Road.

WHITE-OUTS

Injuries in the crash on I-80 westbound in Weathersfield were minor and were the result of white-out conditions as traffic backed up, said trooper Dan DeLuca of the Canfield post of the highway patrol.

That backup was caused by a bigger area of traffic crashes on Interstate 76 a few miles to the west, DeLuca said.

Because emergency vehicles could not get through, the eastbound lane of the interstate had to be closed at the turnpike so first responders could tend to the victims, the dispatcher said. So eastbound traffic was backed up on I-76 in Jackson Township.

“There’s so many crashes, they can’t get to them all yet,” DeLuca said Tuesday afternoon.

Traffic from I-80 west was diverted to state Route 11 south. Eastbound I-80 traffic appeared to be moving normally near Route 11by late afternoon.

Kevin Flinn, Youngstown’s buildings and grounds commissioner, said the city’s street department has been working around the clock on putting down road salt / grit mixture.

LONG SHIFTS

The department has 13 drivers at a time work 12-hour shifts, starting at 7 p.m. Monday.

“I’m going to keep going on that shift until” at least today, Flinn said. “I’d rather have drivers here working than call them in. There’s been times in the past when they couldn’t get into work because of the snowfall. It’s better to have them here.”

ODOT’s Chesnic said: “Crews have been out working on treating the roads, but big snow bands dropped snow quickly. After (the state patrol) clears the crashes, we will re-salt and then reopen.”

Chesnic agreed that lake effect snow is to blame.

Northern Summit County and the counties nearest Lake Erie, such as Lake and Geauga counties, had it bad, too, Chesnic said.

Interstate 90 was backed up and covered in snow.

“That is the thing with lake effect snow — you can have snow falling at two inches an hour and down the road it is sunny,” Chesnic said.

Reduced visibility is one of the most dangerous parts of a storm, he said.

“You can’t see the crashed vehicles in front of you,” Chesnic said. “Slow down and take your time. The conditions can change minute by minute and hour by hour. Avoid distractions.”

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