By Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania Turnpike managers relied on an early, less-serious forecast in preparing for last month’s snowstorm that left hundreds of motorists stranded, according to an official with the agency.

Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan testified Tuesday before a state Senate committee on Pennsylvania’s response to the storm.

He said officials planned around a Jan. 22 midafternoon advisory that called for a “manageable range” of snow in central Pennsylvania. The forecast called for about six to eight inches of snow.

“Those folks know how to handle that,” Logan told the committee.

The agency didn’t get another update with predictions of a foot or two of snow until almost 10 p.m., he said.

Lawmakers countered that TV news had updated predictions throughout the day, and Logan said he wasn’t trying to assign blame.

The agency uses a statewide contract with State College-based AccuWeather for forecasts.

Barry Myers, CEO of AccuWeather, said the agency could have had access to the weather database at any time for updates in addition to the afternoon and evening briefings.

More than 500 vehicles were stranded for almost 24 hours on a 16-mile stretch of the turnpike 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. About two feet of snow fell on portions of the turnpike during the storm.

The ordeal began after two tractor-trailers became disabled as they tried to climb the grade to the Allegheny tunnels and got stuck in the westbound lanes. The eastbound turnpike was later closed to give emergency road crews access to the jammed westbound lanes, so they could be cleared of snow and vehicles.

More than 200 people stayed in shelters and another 200 in hotels after their vehicles were freed.

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