HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Wolf Administration and the National Weather Service (NWS) are reminding drivers of the threats that snow squalls bring in the winter months.

Drivers are advised to observe warnings related to snow squalls during Snow Squall Awareness week, which falls on Nov. 14 to Nov. 18.

“We all have a role to play in staying safe on roadways this winter,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “When you get a snow squall warning, the safest thing to do is pause your travel to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, which will help first responders too.”

According to the NWS a snow squall is a brief but intense period of heavy snow. This snow will accumulate up to two inches in under 30 minutes. There are also strong winds that can reach over 30 miles per hour, as well as whiteout conditions that reduce visibility for less than a quarter of a mile.

Snow squalls usually occur when it is partly cloudy outside and they can come on suddenly, catching drivers off guard. These sudden snow squalls can lead to major transportation incidents, including deadly multi-vehicle accidents.

“The National Weather Service issues Snow Squall Warnings to alert for the sudden onset of life-threatening conditions encountered by highway travelers during snow squalls,” said NWS State College Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jonathan Guseman. “If you are driving on an interstate when a Snow Squall Warning is issued, the best thing to do is gradually reduce your speed and exit the roadway at the next opportunity.”

“PennDOT is prepared for the season and actively monitors conditions and forecasts, but we cannot prevent snow squalls or know exactly where they’ll hit,” PennDOT Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser said. “If you must travel in inclement weather, please allow plenty of space around other vehicles and our snow-plow operators so they can perform their jobs effectively and safely.”

Keiser also explained that as part of a signage pilot project, the department will be deploying variable speed limit, or VSL, signs — which work to reduce speed limits when visibility or roadway conditions call for lower speeds.

This change will take place at 63 locations:

  • 211 locations along I-80 in Clearfield (mile marker 100 to 133) and Clinton (mile marker 182 to 193) counties
  • Six locations on I-80 in Clarion and Jefferson counties on the approaches to Emlenton Bridge (mile marker 42 to 45), North Fork Bridge (mile marker 78 to 81), and Kyle Lake Bridge (mile marker 92 to 95)
  • 36 locations along I-81 from I-78 to I-80 in Lebanon (five locations), Luzerne (seven locations), Schuylkill (24 locations) counties

While the VSL signs are in place through April, the permanent speed limit signs will be covered, and the normal posted speed limit will be displayed on the VSL unless visibility or weather conditions call for there to be slower speeds. A yellow light on the sign will blink to indicate that when speeds limits have been reduced.

Earlier in the year, the program was active in 12 counties along I-80 in Clearfield County. Data showed that this low-cost solution effectively slowed traffic when needed and reduced, or even eliminated, crashes. The locations were chosen based on crash and weather data where frequent winter-related conditions were present.