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Snowfall causes power outages, closings

Nov. 02, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

ONA -- Bryton Harden knew Superstorm Sandy would impact the Tri-State, but like many in the region he never anticipated five to six inches of snow.

The Cabell Midland High School senior expected raindrops on his morning commute, but Sandy's downpour of snow blanketed area roadways, caused widespread power outages and forced school officials to cancel Tuesday classes.

Harden and classmate Joshua Miller spent some of their free time clearing a driveway for Harden's aunt.

"I never expected this," Harden said.

The heavy, wet nature of Tuesday's snow brought down utility lines across the region, cutting electricity to thousands, including widespread outages, which impacted the Huntington Mall, early voting in Ona and significant portions of Barboursville, Milton and Culloden and much of Putnam County.

American Electric Power, at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, was reporting electricity outages affecting 7,822 in Putnam County; that number was down to 4,177 by press time on Wednesday.

Putnam County Schools closed on Tuesday, and Eastbrook and Poca elementary schools remained closed on Wednesday because of power outages. Trick or Treat was also postponed from Tuesday until Thursday across the county because of poor weather conditions.

Forecasters had anticipated snowflakes, but did not expect them to fall in such abundance, said Faith Borden, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Charleston. She said quick?falling snow early Tuesday morning created a layer of insulation that cooled the ground for accumulation.

Downtown Huntington received a light accumulation, but it was a very different story for anyone who traveled a short distance, especially to the east and south, where forecasters posted winter storm warnings for Putnam, Lincoln and Wayne counties. Those counties were expected to receive a total snow accumulation of three to five inches.

Snow also piled along Howells Mill Road in Ona. The heavy, wet snow, while muddy, provided Mackenzie and Emily Ryder with enough ingredients for a late October snowman.

"He's muddy," Mackenzie Ryder said of her snowman. "He looks like he's chocolate." Autumn snowmen are a rarity in the Tri-State, but Sandy was no typical storm. The former hurricane combined with a cold front in New England late Monday, creating a super low pressure system that funneled snow into the area.

"I wouldn't say surprised," she said. "We knew it would snow. It just came so hard and so fast that it stuck a lot faster than we thought." Borden estimated that layer of insulation cooled an otherwise warm, 50-degree ground temperature. That warmth typically prevents heavy snow accumulations until later in the season.

Borden, for instance, estimated Charleston's snowiest October was previously 2.5 inches, a record shattered by Tuesday's 10.5-inch snowfall in Kanawha County.

Gordon Merry, director of emergency operations for Cabell County, had watched the storm for days and had an inkling that Sandy could deal the Tri-State a sizable blow. With laughter from others, he ordered ambulance officials Monday to ready the agency's plows for use.

Downed trees and utility lines proved to be Cabell County's largest problem, Merry said.

The storm also impacted telephone operations. It prompted West Virginia's largest telephone and Internet provider, Frontier Communications, to ask for its customers' patience as the utility first focused efforts on 911 centers. It further urged customers to stay away from downed lines and report them to 800-921-8102 (business) or 800-921-8101 (residential).

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