Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 30, 2012

Superstorm

Region sees power loss as system bears down

By CHARLES OWENS and KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — A monster of a storm packing powerful winds and blizzard-like conditions threatened the region Monday. And forecasters are warning that the brunt of the wintry mess is still to come today.

The so-called ‘Frankenstorm’ — a rare combination of a hurricane and a winter storm — was expected to live up to its billing. Appalachian Power placed 400 additional workers on alert in the Princeton and Beckley areas, as forecasters warned the combination of wet, heavy snow and strong winds could take down trees and power lines.

A blizzard warning remains in effect through 4 a.m. Wednesday for McDowell, Buchanan and Wyoming counties. A winter storm warning remains in effect for Mercer, Tazewell and Monroe counties through 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Several hundred families in the region were already without power Monday. Appalachian Power reported 776 outages in Mercer County and 649 in Tazewell County. Another 515 lost power in McDowell County and 112 were in the dark in Giles County. Virginia remains under a state of emergency, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency Monday for West Virginia.

“There are some mountainous areas of McDowell County that are experiencing some high snowfall amounts,” Tommy Camden, District 10 manager for the West Virginia Division of Highways, said. “I personally don’t recall a storm of this magnitude hitting this area this early. We are working around the clock. Our night shift is in place already. We have a special projects crew that normally does road work during the summer months. We have deployed them to take care of the snow and ice in the area.”

James Clark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., said the combination of heavy, wet snow and strong, gusty winds could knock down trees and power lines.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” Clark said of power outages. “As the snow starts to accumulate, and the snowfall adds up on the trees — and there are a few locations that still have leaves on them — there is a possibility there could be power outages associated with the storm.”

On average, between 4 to 8 inches of heavy wet snow was expected in elevations above 2,500 feet. Wind gusts in some areas — including Tazewell — could reach as high as 60 mph, Clark said. Other areas such as Mercer County could see continued wind gusts of 35 to 40 mph.

Jeri Matheney, a corporate communications manager for Appalachian Power, said the company was preparing for the possibility of significant power outages in Mercer and Raleigh counties. An additional 400 Appalachian Power crews were stationed in Princeton and Beckley in advance of the storm.

“We are going to be lodging people in both Princeton and Beckley because it looks like that is going to be where we expect the worst outages could occur due to this snowfall,” Matheney said. “That’s one advantage we have with this storm over the derecho. We did get advance warning. We spent all of last week and this weekend getting people in.”

Matheney said area residents are urged to plan in advance for possible power outages.

“It is important to make a plan,” she said. “I do think it is important that people think ahead to different possible situations that could occur and how to deal with them. Are they OK staying in the house, or do they want to go to a friends house or a hotel? You need to think about what you might do if there is an extended outage.”

Local officials were making plans Monday for emergency shelters.

Mercer County Emergency Management Director Tim Farley said he is already in talks with several groups to set up emergency shelters if they are needed.

“We have looked at areas for potential shelters including the Salvation Army in Princeton and in Bluefield and the Red Cross,” Farley said. “We won’t know how much damage will result until the brunt of the storm arrives. We are also looking into alternate shelters if the power does go out in these areas. We are asking all citizens to be aware of the weather and to prepare by stocking up on enough food and water to last several days. We are also asking people to have flashlights handy.”

Farley said emergency crews are already mobilized for power outages and storm damage.

“Right now, we are in wait-and-see mode,” Farley said. “We are prepared for icy conditions, downed trees and power lines. We are getting our people and equipment prepared. We have chainsaws to get rid of downed trees and other equipment to help people get out in case of power outages.”

In Bluefield, an emergency shelter was opened at the Salvation Army located at 900 Highland Ave., behind the Hardee’s restaurant on Bluefield Avenue.

For those families who lose electricity and need emergency shelter are asked to contact the Salvation Army at 304-952-2705, according to Capt. Jerry Lester.

“If anyone loses power when this hits, we are setting up a shelter here to try to take families in as long as we have power,” Lester said. “We will also be working with the Red Cross on this.”

Mercer County Coordinator Vicky Reed said the county commission has not yet canceled trick-or-treating for the county despite the weather.

“The courts will be closed in Mercer County (today) but not the courthouse,” Reed said. “The county commission has not made a decision on whether to continue with trick-or-treating yet. At this point, we feel we should leave that decision up to parents and children if the want to or not. Of course, the commission will be meeting (this) morning to see if it should be canceled based on the weather.”

Bluefield City Manager Jim Ferguson asked all residents to be alert and careful during the inclement weather.

“The city of Bluefield is cautioning citizens to be careful and consider holding off their Halloween festivities until Thursday if these weather conditions continue,” he said.

In McDowell County — where a rare blizzard warning was issued — plans also were being finalized for emergency shelters, according to Cathy Patton, a spokeswoman for the McDowell County Commission.

Patton said 911 officials are asking residents of McDowell County to prepare for blizzard-like conditions by stockpiling three to five days worth of food, water, medicine, fuel, blankets and batteries for flashlights. Patton said emergency shelters will be opened as needed. She said residents with emergencies are asked to call 911. She said information regarding shelters in McDowell County will be announced by the local media.

In Tazewell County, shelters will be opened in different communities as they are needed, County Administrator Jim Spencer said.

“First of all, Dave (White), and I and Sam (Wolford) met a couple of times today to be as prepared as possible, “Spencer said. “It depends upon where the problem areas are and then we will pick a shelter. According to which area is impacted, we will try to have a shelter as close to that area as possible.”

Spencer said those who experience an emergency are urged to call 911. Emergency messages also will be posted on the county’s Facebook page, as well as the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

“Communications is key,” Spencer said. “Neighbors should check on each other if power goes out. Folks should keep one phone charged up. People need to be prepared. Most of us have been through storms like this before. A lot of it is being prepared with common sense things like batteries for flashlights.”

In Carroll County near the North Carolina border, a northbound tractor-trailer was blown over onto its side at the 3-mile marker, according to Corinne N. Geller, a spokesman for the Virginia State Police. Once the wind subsided, the wrecker company was finally able to safely upright and remove the tractor-trailer.

Geller said to prevent further problems, North Carolina is advising northbound commercial traffic to find an alternate route, especially for those commercial vehicles not loaded or of lighter weight.

Michelle Earl, a spokesperson with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said crews are already hard at work clearing major roadways like Interstate 77 and Interstate 81.

“VDOT crews across southwestern Virginia have begun working 12-hour shifts in anticipation of the predicted snow for the region,” she said. “Our crews are reporting some snow and ice patches in the Tazewell County area. We are monitoring the roadways, and spreading some salt and abrasives as needed in anticipation of additional snow accumulation.”

Earl said VDOT is asking all travelers to use caution and avoid driving if possible.

“Motorists are advised to monitor travel conditions throughout the day,” Earl said. “Should conditions deteriorate, drivers should make every effort to be off the road. Drivers can get the latest road conditions at www.511virginia.org or by downloading the 511 mobile app. The entire list of roads closed due to the storm can be found online at www.511virginia.org. We are also asking residents to report downed trees and hazardous road conditions to 1-800-367-ROAD or 1-800-367-7623.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com