By John Raby
West Virginians on Sunday braced for a wintry blow from the coming megastorm, with the unusual mix of weather systems expected to bring a blizzard to mountainous areas and strong winds, heavy snow and possible flooding and outages to other parts.
The storm — a combination of Hurricane Sandy, a cold front from the west and high pressure from the north — presents a variety of concerns to West Virginians, depending on their location.
Late Sunday, the National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings from midday Monday through Wednesday afternoon in 10 counties. They are Fayette, McDowell, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Tucker, Webster and Wyoming counties.
The highest ridge tops, including near ski resorts, could receive up to 2 feet of heavy, wet snow, along with wind gusts of up to 50 mph that reduce visibility to zero and bring down tree limbs
Four other counties were under a winter storm warning: Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe and Summers. Those could see up to 8 inches of snow.
“This is one of the most interesting storms I’ve ever seen,” said Barb Miller, emergency services director in Jefferson, the state’s easternmost county. “Even this morning (Sunday), they still can’t say exactly where it’s going to hit.”
Snow was forecast to start falling Sunday night and continue through Wednesday morning from McDowell County northeast to Preston County.
Other areas of the state will see a mix of rain and snow, especially Monday night and Tuesday.
Wind gusts up to 60 mph were likely Monday and Tuesday in Berkeley, Hampshire, Grant, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan and Pendleton counties. Combined with heavy rains, that could lead to significant tree damage, the weather service said.
Flooding also was possible in both panhandles and portions of northern West Virginia.
T.D. Lively of the state Division of Homeland Security said the American Red Cross has placed several of its shelters on standby, adding that “typically West Virginia doesn’t have a large need for sheltering because people tend to stay with family.”
Power company crews were being mobilized to deal with potential outages.
Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said Sunday that in addition to putting its own workers on notice, more than 350 crews have been secured from others companies within the system of parent American Electric Power, which serves nearly 440,000 customers in 24 West Virginia counties.
“The weather pattern certainly looks like it could impact our service territory and cause power outages,” Moye said. “If the weather continues to develop in a way that we could have major power outages, then we’ll request more (help).”
West Virginia already has had a busy year dealing with weather-related emergencies. The June 29 windstorms known as a derecho left more than 680,000 state customers without electricity, many for up to two weeks, in the middle of a heat wave.
“With an event this size, the power company is going to be so tied up and they’re not going to be able to get to everybody at the same time,” Miller said. “So they need to be as ready as they can.”
Airlines canceled 19 flights heading in and out of Charleston’s Yeager Airport on Monday due to the pending storm. Most involved United Airlines flights and 11 of the canceled flights involved airports in Washington D.C. The other airports are in New York, Chicago and Houston.
Another United flight scheduled to leave Yeager Airport on Sunday night also was canceled.