Snowfall causes outages, closings
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.
Forecasters 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.
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.
But the fun was not isolated to those counties.
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. Similar numbers were not immediately available for Huntington.
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.
Tuesday morning one of those plows cleared snow from a rural route off Martha Road, where paramedics tended to and transported a heart attack patient for emergency treatment.
“Time is heart muscle,” he said.
Downed trees and utility lines proved to be Cabell County’s largest problem, Merry said.
American Electric Power, at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, was reporting electricity outages affecting 5,624 customers in Cabell County; 7,822 in Putnam County; 7,991 in Lincoln County; 1,900 in Mason County; and 2.772 in Wayne County.
American Electric Power, also at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, reported 247 customers without electricity in Gallia County, Ohio. Buckeye Rural was reporting 419 customers without electricity in Lawrence County, Ohio, with outages to another 224 in Gallia County and two in Scioto County.
American Electric Power reported none of its customers without electricity in Boyd and Greenup County in Kentucky, but the utility reported significant outages further away in southeastern Kentucky.
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).
The National Weather Service expects rain showers from Superstorm Sandy to stay in the region through Thursday afternoon. Borden said above-freezing temperatures should prevent additional snow accumulation.
Wednesday’s high temperature will climb into the low 40s with breezy conditions. Clearing is expected for Thursday night and Friday.