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Statewide Roundup: West Virginians digging out from massive snow storm

West Virginia Press Association
Staff Report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — From the moment its first flakes began to fall around 7 a.m. Friday in southern West Virginia until the last flakes fell in the Eastern Panhandle late Saturday, Winter Storm Jonas dumped record amounts of snow on West Virginia, with totals from 12 inches in Parkersburg to more than three feet in Martinsburg.
The weekend storm closed interstates — portions of 81 and 77 were closed for extended periods leaving tractor-trailers and other traffic stuck on the highways — businesses, schools and left Mountain State’s residents stranded on the roads and forced to dig out for the coming work week. Numerous roads around the state were closed for periods over the weekend and, as of Sunday, many streets and roads remained impassable.

In Martinsburg, cited by some weather reports as the bull’s eye of the storm that struck much of the eastern United States, The Journal’s Emily Daniels reported that the highly publicized and anticipated winter storm that hit the Eastern Panhandle Friday afternoon surpassed original forecasts and left many areas with more than 40 inches of snow by Sunday.

“The county emergency services have been extremely busy and working hard to service the public,” said Eddie Gochenour, director of Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “Everybody is trying to help one another; fire departments are helping emergency medical services, and law enforcement officers are working with the department of highways; everybody’s on board.”

After West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency Friday evening, state workers started clearing primary roadways.  “To my knowledge, they haven’t even been able to reach secondary roads,” Gochenour said. “When they do get a road open, they are closed up within an hour because of the snow and wind drifting the snow.”

Although there have been numerous accidents due to road conditions, cars have been doing a good job of staying off the road, according to Gochenour.  “We would like to thank the public for heeding the warnings as far as staying off the roadways,” Gochenour said.

In Jefferson County, the snow record prior to this storm was 27.5 inches. Into Saturday evening, there were reports of over 30 inches, said Brandon Vallee, public information officer for Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management. There were reports of anywhere from 25 to 40 inches of snow in Berkeley County.

“Getting three feet of snow is remarkable,” said Bryan Jackson, meteorologist with U.S. National Weather Service for Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. “This will be the storm that people remember for a while.”

Some of the biggest efforts Saturday — during the worst parts of the storm — involved getting primary roadways clear. The department of highways said two lanes of Interstate 81, one northbound and one southbound, were finally opened around 5 p.m. Saturday evening after trying to clear them all day.

“We also coordinated some pretty neat transports,” Gochenour said. “There was a physician who had to perform emergency surgery, so we worked with the Maryland authorities. Our council president, Mr. (Doug) Copenhaver, actually drove to Washington County to pick the doctor up and get him to Berkeley Medical Center.”

There is no snow forecast to hit the area today. 20 mile per hour winds are possible, but the drifts are not predicted to cause any significant damage or danger, Jackson said.  As of Saturday afternoon, the governor had allotted more National Guard resources to be used by the Eastern Panhandle such as Humvees to transport emergency responders.  “Secondary roads aren’t even being touched because of lack of resources,” Vallee said.

In Charleston, staff members of the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported residents were continuing Sunday to dig out from the most snow the city has seen over two days in more than 20 years. A total of 18.6 inches of snow fell Friday and Saturday in Charleston, said Andrew Beavers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. That’s just shy of Charleston’s record for a two-day snow fall, which at 18.9 inches was set in March of 1993.

While the weather on Sunday was sunny, Beavers said light rain is expected Monday night into Tuesday. Sunday looks to be the coldest of the next several days, he said. Melting snow is not expected to cause flooding, Beavers said.

C.W. Sigman, deputy director of the Kanawha County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said all things considered, things went well during the snow storm. “The people of Kanawha County did great,” he said Sunday. “They were warned days in advance and for the most part, they got their groceries and rode it out.”

He commended emergency service workers, police and fire departments along with the West Virginia National Guard for their work.

“The utilities kept the power on for the most part,” he said. As of 12:15 p.m., 129 Appalachian Power customers were without power, according to the utility’s website.

Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said in a release that most county offices were starting Sunday to shift their focus to treating secondary and some third priority routes. “The only issues we have right now is downed equipment,” she said in the release. “These drivers and their trucks have been going non-stop since Friday. Our mechanics have also been working around the clock to keep equipment up and running.

“We appreciate the public’s patience as we work to clear the significant accumulation,” Bly said.

In Princeton, Greg Jordan of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported Saturday that residents were digging out and getting outdoors for quick errands or some fresh air as snow kept falling on the Princeton area.

Snowflakes were drifting down and cold wind was blowing in Princeton, but snowplows with the West Virginia Department of Highways were out along with private contractors. On Hope Lane near just off New Hope Road, Bobby Dove of Princeton was using a plow mounted on his ATV to clear an apartment building’s parking lot and the lots of nearby businesses. He had cleared the Child Protect of Mercer County parking lot for free.

“It’s not bad,” Dove said about the winter storm. “I’m doing pretty good.”

Two men hiking down New Hope Road toward Princeton Community Hospital said they were not having any problems with the snow. They had gone out to visit a local store.  “No, it’s not bad,” said one local man who declined to give his name. “I couldn’t get my van out, so I just walked.”

Henry Fleshman, 26, of Oak Hill, recalled major snowstorms during the 1990s and said the one that hit the region Friday and Saturday wasn’t as bad.  “No. Back in the 90s, it was a lot worse than this,” he said.

Crews using backhoes and tractors were clearing the parking lots at Princeton Community Hospital. One man parked his vehicle and headed into the hospital to pay a visit. The storm had been keeping him very busy.

“Well, right now I’m taking a break from snow removal to go and visit my dad,” Tommy Martin, 54, of Princeton said.

In Parkersburg on Saturday, Jeffrey Saulton of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported Mid-Ohio Valley residents were also digging out from the biggest winter storm – so far – of 2016 after over a foot of snow was left in the wake of the storm.

Micha Pasquale, of Covert Street in Parkersburg, spent part of her day digging her car out of the snow on Saturday. She was glad she was able to go shopping for extra food and supplies on Friday, she said.

“We’re just digging ourselves out,” Pasquale said. “We just watched the people down the street dig their car out, it took 30 minutes to get unstuck.”

Pasquale said she was just sweeping her car off, but had no plans to even try to go anywhere Saturday. She said this was not her first experience with snow and its aftermath  “When I was in junior high we had close to four feet of snow,” she said as her daughter Makayla was playing in the snow. “I remember it because we didn’t have electric for days.

“I’m just thankful this snow isn’t heavy enough to weigh down the power lines so we’ll all still have electricity and heat.”

Local officials reported few problems Saturday as many people stayed at home. The Wood County 911 Center had only four accident reports Saturday, all minor.

Ray Young, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said the official snowfall total for the Parkersburg area was 11 inches as of Saturday morning. Young said there was some variation throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley, with Marietta’s snowfall measuring 16 inches for the storm which began Friday afternoon and ended Saturday.

In Morgantown, Dominion Post staff members reported nearly two feet of snow fell on Morgantown leaving roads, cars, yards and pretty much everything buried in winter. By noon Saturday, the area saw 15 to 20 inches of snow. Nearly two feet of snow was measured along the rail-trail in Sabraton. Other areas in Monongalia County were also registering more than 24 inches. In Newburg, 26 inches of snow coated the ground.

The snow began Friday, Jan. 22, and continued overnight, ending just after 4 p.m. Saturday. By the time the storm had moved out of the area, Monongalia County Office of Emergency Management Mike Wolfe said the county had received between a foot and two-plus feet of snow. On Saturday night, Wolfe said that all of the roadways were still covered but that DOH and city crews were working on clearing the main routes.No utility outages were reported, he said, but all warming shelter locations were still on standby. Wolfe asked that people stay off the roadways on Sunday as crews work to clear the streets. Division of Highway crews were out trying to make primary roads — such as interstates, U.S. routes and W.Va. routes — at least passable, Spokeswoman Carrie Bly said.  She said crews were doing better in the Morgantown area than in Charleston where they had to shut down a couple of interstates.

In Huntington, Herald-Dispatcher reporter Brandon Roberts reported the city had a Top-10 snowfall, according to data from the National Weater Service in Charleston. Winter Storm Jonas brought one of the largest snowfalls to ever hit Huntington, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service.

Meteorologist Maura Casey said Jonas did not eclipse the snowfall amount from the March 1993 blizzard, which dropped a record 21.9 inches of snow over a two-day period, but NWS estimates 12 inches fell between 7 a.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday at the Huntington Tri-State Airport, which is one of five climate sites across the state the NWS uses for record-keeping.  “…We are rather confident that this was the No. 2 snowfall in Huntington,” Casey said.

Luckily, the snow that fell Friday and Saturday was dry and light so power outages were not a major issue. As of 10 a.m. Saturday, Appalachian Power reported 140 customers were without power in Wayne County. No power outages had been reported in Cabell County; Lawrence County, Ohio; or Boyd County, Kentucky. Lt. Angie Ferguson, of Cabell County 911, said there had been few reports of fender-benders and other weather-related crashes Friday and Saturday because most people simply can’t drive their vehicles in the current conditions. “People seem to have stayed off the roads,” she said.

In Wheeling, Wheeling News-Register reporter Casey Junkins reported that blizzard conditions that arrived Friday dropped anywhere from 6 inches to more than a foot of snow on the Upper Ohio Valley, leaving residents such as Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas shoveling their way out by Saturday afternoon.

With the National Weather Service calling for mostly sunny conditions Sunday and a high temperature near 28 degrees Fahrenheit, Lucas and other residents will likely continue digging through the snow. “I don’t think we’ve had a large amount of accidents,” Lucas said, praising the work of the Ohio Department of Transportation, as well as the county and township employees, for removing snow from the roadways.

Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo also said traffic on Interstates 70 and 470 seemed to be flowing well, in addition to the vehicles traveling on W.Va. 2.  Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said he received reports of snowfall accumulations as high as 20 inches in certain areas of the county with higher elevations. “It was a little more than we anticipated,” Hart said, though noting he was unaware of any major problems or accidents associated with the snow. Still, that does not mean there would not be issues, he acknowledged.

In Beckley, Daniel Tyson of the Register-Herald reported people were out with shovels trying to dig out their cars. In uptown Beckley, street crews were working to remove snow from the roadway. Crews were busy clearing the nearly 160 streets that make up Beckley, said Jerry Stump, the city’s street inspector. Twenty men worked around the clock to clear the 100-plus miles of streets. Each 10-person crew worked 12-hour shifts plowing snow.
Walking on South Kanawha Street, Andy Chilton said he was out just “to get some air.” Chilton was off work on Thursday and Friday. By Saturday morning, he said, he needed a change of scenery, even it it meant walking in a foot of snow in freezing temperatures. For the last couple days, he said, he has watched several movies and played hours of video games. “I just needed to get out,” he said.
— This roundup is provided by the member newspapers of the West Virginia Press Association

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