The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 29, 2012

Top stories of 2012 — No. 3 'Frankenstorm' snowfall halts the state

By Carra Higgins
Register-Herald Reporter

Almost exactly four months after a derecho toppled trees and knocked out power for a week or more during the summer’s sweltering heat, another storm began brewing.

 This time, though, the winds and rain were from Hurricane Sandy and they were meeting with cold air from Canada in the West Virginia mountains to once again cripple parts of the region for nearly a week — not only because of the loss of electric, but added to it was several feet of snow.

Forecasters and others at first dubbed it “Frankenstorm” — an odd autumn-winter wallop that would have seemed normal had it been January. The “Frankenstorm” — just like the fictional monster — was being created by parts of various weather scenarios, and was predicted to hit the region around Halloween. “Frankenstorm” eventually was called Superstorm Sandy because of its original status as Hurricane Sandy and the serious devastation it left throughout the Northeast United States.

No one knew for sure just how much snow the region would receive. Early predictions ranged from 2 inches to 2 feet and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour were expected. One thing was nearly a forgone conclusion: widespread power outages.

By Oct. 29, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had declared a state of emergency and asked that all residents heed warnings to stock up on food, water and other necessities because power would be out for several days. That evening, the bread, canned goods and water on the shelves of local stores had been picked over and in some cases were bare. Few flashlights and other power outage necessities could be found either.

It wasn’t just residents who were preparing. Appalachian Power Co. brought more than 400 workers into the area before the storm hit in order for electric to be restored to homes and businesses as soon as safe and possible. Some places — including the downtown Beckley area — didn’t lose power, or at least not for any significant amount of time between Oct. 29 and when the worst of the snow was finished late Oct. 30. But those who did were without it for more than a week.

The peak of the power outages hit during the afternoon of Oct. 30. At that point more than 260,000 of West Virginia’s electric customers were in the dark and cold, too. Local shelters had been activated and were being used by some; however, emergency workers presumed that many people without power had opted to stay with family and friends instead.

In Nicholas County — one of the hardest hit in the state — residents of Richwood on Nov. 1 were beginning to return to a normal way of life. Some residents of Richwood and Nicholas County did take advantage of the warmth, company and food being provided at The Food and Clothing Pantry — a place where neighbors helped neighbors as best they could.

Snowfall totals in Beckley alone were at nearly two feet, while it wasn’t a stretch to say snow in higher elevations was at five feet in parts of Nicholas County, said Richwood Fire Chief Tommy Coleman.

Signs on homes told power company crews “No Power” while businesses and homeowners began to dig out of the snow and even make plans to re-build or repair — roofs and some structures collapsed or were damaged by the weight of the heavy snow. The roofs of the U-Save convenience stores in both Summersville and Craigsville had fallen in during the storm.

Rachel Gohil, secretary/ treasurer of U-Save, spent time Thursday, Nov. 1, helping clean the Summersville location. Like many others who were affected by the storm, she said, “You don’t let it knock you down.”

When comparing the October snowfall to others, many could only remember storms that had occurred 20 or more years ago. A few people in Nicholas County recalled the March 1993 snowfall, while Frank Spencer, 89, remembered snowfalls that happened in 1942 and 1961.

By Friday, Nov. 2, major transportation arteries had been cleared and the region began its return to normalcy as power returned modern conveniences and the winter necessity of heat.

The Associated Press reported in late November that seven deaths in West Virginia were associated with Superstorm Sandy.

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