By Pam Ramsey
The Associated Press
Public schools closed in all 55 counties and shelters opened across West Virginia as frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” sent temperatures plunging Monday.
Following a relatively balmy Sunday of 40-degree and 50-degree weather, temperatures dropped into the 20s on Monday and were expected to fall to single digits or below zero Monday night.
“For most of the state, this is going to be the coldest temperatures we’ve seen since February 1996,” said Greg Guillot, general forecaster with the National Weather Service in Charleston.
Wind chill warnings were in effect across the state from Monday afternoon to this afternoon. Wind chills of minus 20 to minus 30 degrees were expected in many areas.
Conditions could be even more frigid in higher elevations. The temperature at Snowshoe, 4,711 feet above sea level, was expected to fall to between minus 20 and minus 25 degrees Monday night, with a potential wind chill of minus 50, Guillot said.
“It’s going to be brutal up there,” he said.
Snow and cold Monday prompted public schools in all 55 counties to close. Classes today at Davis & Elkins College and live greyhound racing at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack were canceled, along with a West Virginia Ethics Commission training session on ethics in Beckley.
The frigid weather hampered efforts by Appalachian Power crews to restore electricity to about 7,800 customers affected by outages Sunday night. Most of the weather-related outages were in Kanawha and Putnam counties, Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said.
“Customer demand is high and when power’s been out and we try to bring it back on, the demand for heaters and electrical appliances sometimes can overload a line and cause it to go back out,” he said.
Several counties opened warming shelters for people with inadequate shelter from the bitter cold. Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center offered to provide shelter for homeless veterans.
Officials at several homeless shelters said their facilities are prepared to handle any increase in the number of people seeking warmth and a place to stay.
Twenty-eight people were staying at the Salvation Army’s 35-bed homeless shelter for men, wo-men and families Sunday night in Charleston. A separate church facility could be set up as a mass shelter if needed, said Maj. John Blevins.
“We have a good community resource program. If there’s somebody out there, the police will bring them in,” Blevins said in a telephone interview.
He said the Salvation Army opened a day warming shelter in Wheeling last week.
The Union Mission’s men’s homeless shelter in Charleston can house up to 150 men in extreme cold. About 45 to 50 men were staying at the shelter Sunday night, said Chaplain C. Burns.
“We’re always prepared this time of year. If we get an overflow, all we have to do is move things around and get them in,” Burns said in a telephone interview.
West Virginia American Water said in a news release that water main breaks have increased since Friday and more are expected as temperatures fall. The company began preparations for extreme weather last week, including testing and fueling generators in case pump stations lose electricity.