Pittsburgh's Freezing Weather Complicating River Traffic

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
20 February 2015
By Ann Belser

Chuck Lantzman is waiting for a delivery of road salt. He might be waiting awhile.

Salt bound for Mr. Lantzman’s North Side-based Snow and Ice Management Co. is slowly making its way on a barge along the frozen Ohio River.

River traffic is delayed because, while it takes a lot for the rivers to freeze, there has been a lot of cold air lately to freeze them. Lee Hendricks, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Moon, said the last time the temperature rose above freezing here was Feb. 12.

This morning should be the worst of it, with the air temperature falling to about 10 below at dawn with a wind chill that makes it feel like 25 below. Pittsburgh Public Schools and many of the districts in the region canceled school Thursday and Friday because of the extreme temperatures.

Temperatures will warm through today. The projected high is 11 above, which, until earlier this month, seemed really cold.

The extended cold spell has frozen the rivers, though continuous barge traffic has been able to keep a lane open along the waterways.

Dan Jones, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps has maintained movement in at least one chamber in each of the locks along the river. While the process to get through the locks has slowed down, at least traffic still is moving.

He said the ice has meant there is less room in the lock chambers, forcing tow boats to split their loads — moving half of the barges through, tying them off on the other side of the lock, then retrieving the rest, before tying the barges all back together to get underway again.

He said it is a slow process.

The corps in this region controls 23 locks and dams and 16 flood control reservoirs in sections of five states that are, essentially, the headwaters of the Ohio River and include the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

Peter Stephaich, the CEO of Campbell Transportation Inc. in Houston, Washington County, said while locks are moving, his tow boats are having a hard time getting barges to the docks. Ice is blocking the way between the shipping channel and the shore, so crews have to clear ice out of the way.

“The whole system is struggling,” he said. Then he paused for a moment and added, “Spring is coming.”

Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power in Columbus, which has a shipping division, said the company’s barges are moving, but much more slowly than usual.
While Mr. Lantzman, president of Snow and Ice Management, waits for the barge of salt supposed to be delivered to Neville Island, his North Side company is bringing in salt from Delaware by truck.

That makes for some expensive salt because it is a six-hour drive by 25-ton truck.

This winter, Mr. Lantzman said, started off slowly, but his snow and ice removal business has heated up as the temperature has dropped.

Snow and Ice Management has already bailed out Ford City with a delivery of salt. Normally, the company, which also has a snow removal business, only provides salt to commercial users.

Mr. Hendricks said his forecast for Saturday calls for snow in the morning, but the temperature will rise into the mid 30s, turning the snow to rain.

The temperature is supposed to rise into the upper 30s on Sunday.

He said it is not time to put the heavy coats away yet. On Monday morning, the temperature should drop back down to about 10 degrees.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699