The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 1, 2012

Officials keeping eye on snowmelt, predicted rain

By Carra Higgins
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — As residents of the region dig themselves out of nearly 2 feet of snow in some areas and await power restorations, the potential for high water is being monitored as the snow melts and precipitation turns to rain.

The National Weather Service isn’t — at least yet — issuing any flood-related warnings or watches, but it is a situation they are monitoring and considering.

In the Beckley area, the NWS estimates that approximately 1 inch of water will be created from every 7 inches of snow. That means melting snow could produce 3 to 5 inches of water. Data from the NWS estimates that Beckley received 22 inches of snow since Monday.

Hanging tree branches loaded with snow could actually be helped with some rain and warmer temperatures, a NWS meteorologist says. The rains will likely help remove the heavy snow from the branches, but there is also a possibility of it breaking the branches, he said. Ultimately, though, the “pros outweigh the cons” regarding the effects of rain on top of snow-covered trees, he said.

Even though hundreds of thousands in West Virginia and tens of thousands in the region remained without power Wednesday afternoon, most primary roads had been cleared of the snow that blanketed them Tuesday morning.

Appalachian Power Co. spokesman Phil Moye said Wednesday that outages peaked Tuesday evening and efforts to restore electric are under way. Moye said the company is planning to have power restored to approximately 90 percent of its customers in The Register-Herald’s coverage area — including Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Summers and Wyoming counties — by Friday evening.

Tuesday’s hazardous conditions limited power restoration progress, but as more roads are cleared, the more than 1,000 workers will be out in the field.

Moye added that although additional workers were brought into the region well ahead of the storm, resources are spread thin because of the massive power outages throughout the northeast United States.

By 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, more than 10,000 in Raleigh, nearly 8,000 in Wyoming and nearly 13,000 in Nicholas counties were still without electricity; however, more than 55,000 Appalachian Power customers have seen their power restored.

Also on Wednesday, more than 25 distribution substations, 60 circuit breakers and approximately 35 transmission lines or segments remained out of service.

Moye agreed that rain knocking snow off trees could be helpful in preventing further power outages because the branches can only hold so much weight before they give way. However, saturated ground can cause tree roots to uplift, which could create further complications and flooding could prevent restoration crews from reaching areas, he added.

Kevin Taylor, director of Beckley Emergency Operations, said the city does not typically have issues with flooding and has been relatively fortunate with the recent storms. There could be some flash flooding of roadways, such as Robert C. Byrd Drive, but residents of Beckley should not have to worry about excessive water.

Beckley’s storm drains will be monitored, though. Taylor said that all the leaves being flushed into the drains could clog the lines and create some problems, but crews are ready for that possibility. In addition to Beckley sanitation workers clearing the drains, the Beckley Fire Department will assist with their equipment if the need arises.

Taylor says rain on top of the snow-cover is not a large concern. He explained that if the trees withstood the heavy snows and winds earlier in the week, they’re likely to continue standing.

Area residents are advised to remain cautious of the weather and storm-related damages.

The massive power outages and downed infrastructure have prevented the NWS from accessing data to determine if October snowfall records were broken and what the new records might be.

More safe road conditions enabled businesses and government agencies to re-open. Wednesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced that all state offices, with the exception of those without power, were operational.   

— E-mail: chiggins@register-herald.com