State hammered by rare blizzard


After taking a beating from last weekend’s blizzard that dumped as much as 15.6 inches of snow on the area and piled it high with strong winds, early this week residents of coastal Delaware were preparing for the onslaught of a second major winter storm in less than a week – this one a nor’easter expected to bring even more snow and strong winds.

State emergency officials advised on Monday, Feb. 8, that residents and business owners begin clearing accumulated snow off roofs – particularly flat ones – as well as from trees and around vents and gutters, to prevent the additional accumulation of heavy, wet snow from causing roofs to collapse, trees to fall on power lines, and snowmelt and air to be blocked from needed movement.

An official snowfall total in Selbyville reached 15.6 inches late on Saturday, rising in just a few hours from about 10 inches after a brief pause in the heavy snowfall mid-day on Saturday.

The nor’easter was expected to begin impacting the area on Tuesday afternoon as the Coastal Point went to press and to continue to have its impacts felt through mid-day on Thursday, bringing as much as 8 inches of new snow and winds gusting up to 44 mph.

That was only likely to exacerbate lingering impacts from the Feb. 5-6 blizzard, in which as many as 39,000 electric customers were without power at various points during the storm and chicken houses collapsed under the weight of a foot or more of wet snow.

DDA Secretary Ed Kee urged poultry growers on Tuesday to check with their flock supervisors about getting excess snow off of the roofs of their poultry houses. According to poultry housing specialists, growers needed to get heat up into the attic of the houses to melt the snow on the roof. They also had to be careful of the impact of snow removal on the ventilation systems in the houses.

Despite the efforts of state and municipal workers, the heavy snow over the weekend took its toll on travel, and only the area’s most vital roadways remained relatively clear.

By Tuesday morning, Route 26 and Route 1 were the only roadways that had been fully cleared of snow and ice, and the shoulders of both were clogged with the remnants of the plowing work by Delaware Department of Transportation employees who had endeavored to keep the primary roadways clear throughout last weekend’s storm.

Major secondary roads, such as Central Avenue in Ocean View, were largely clear by Tuesday morning, having received some attention from both DelDOT and municipal workers, but they, too, were narrowed by accumulated snow piled on their shoulders and slippery in spots where compacted snow and ice had refrozen.

Neighborhood roads were a mixed bag on Tuesday, some having been plowed by municipal workers or private companies contracted to do the job, or by private citizens who used their own equipment just to be neighborly. Other roads were a driver’s nightmare of compacted ice and snow that looked never to have seen a plow since the start of flurries on Friday afternoon.

Tens of thousands without power at peak

The roadway conditions only served to exacerbate the problems of the many thousands who were without power and in need of shelter during the blizzard and into early this week.

As of Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., 2,900 Delaware Electric Cooperative members remained without power in the state, mostly in eastern Sussex and Kent counties. DEC had more than 40 crews, consisting of more than 200 line workers, dispatched to all areas of Sussex and Kent, and more were on the way, including crews from, North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland.

DEC’s Rob Book said efforts to restore power had been hampered by the fact that some roads remained impassible. The cooperative was working with DelDOT, contract plows and local area farmers to open roads where restoration was still needed, he said.

Delmarva Power, as of 1 p.m. on Tuesday, had nearly 1,110 customers still without power – almost all of them in southeastern Sussex County. Some people had been without power for nearly four days, necessitating the activation of shelters and, during much of the weekend, emergency transportation to those shelters from the Delaware National Guard, among others.

As of Tuesday morning, two shelters remained open in Delaware for those without heat or power. In Sussex, Sussex Central High School in Georgetown was the designated shelter, Cape Henlopen High School having closed as a shelter on Monday. Those needing transportation to a shelter in Sussex County were advised to contact the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center at (302) 856-7366.

Weather shuts down entire state

Throughout the weekend and into early this week, much of the area was at a standstill, public meetings and events canceled or postponed. A State of Emergency declared on Friday at 8 p.m. prohibited non-emergency travel on all roads in Delaware from 10 p.m. onward, lasting until late Saturday for Kent and Sussex counties, where the State of Emergency remained in effect through mid-day Sunday.

The Indian River School District dismissed students two hours early on Friday, Feb. 5, and canceled classes on both Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 8 and 9. As of Tuesday afternoon, no announcement had been made about classes on Wednesday, Feb. 10. IRSD also postponed its planned referendum for Feb. 9 to a date to be announced.

Ocean View postponed both of its scheduled Feb. 9 meetings by a week, and a third scheduled for Feb. 16 to Feb. 23. County offices were closed on Monday, Feb. 8, as were state offices in both Kent and Sussex counties and town offices throughout the area.

Sussex County Council held its Feb. 9 meeting as scheduled, though, and County Council President Vance Phillips on Tuesday praised the dedication and response of county workers who had worked throughout the weekend to help with emergency response.

Sussex County officials on Tuesday were asking residents and property owners with damage caused by last weekend’s snowstorm to report that information immediately so emergency planners could assess the extent of destruction wrought on the region.

Emergency Operations Center Director Joseph L. Thomas reminded residents – especially those in manufactured homes with flat roofs – to sweep or shovel snow from atop those structures as long as it is safe to do so.

“As we all begin the tall task of recovering from this historic storm, it is imperative that the public as soon as possible report to us the damage to their homes, businesses, farms and other properties,” Thomas said. “That will give us a clearer picture of the damage that is out there.”

Anyone who has damage should call the EOC’s storm information hotline at (302) 856-7366. The public also can send photographs of storm damage to emergency officials. Visit www.sussexcountyde.gov/stormphotos to upload storm images.

DelDOT road crews and utility companies continued their efforts Tuesday to clear roads and restore power ahead of the impending nor’easter. Road crews continued to battle snow drifts of 2 to 4 feet in some locations, Thomas said.

Blizzard conditions possible from looming storm

A winter weather advisory was in effect from 4 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday, with a winter storm warning in effect from 7 a.m. Wednesday to midnight that night.

Low pressure moving from the Deep South early Tuesday morning was expected to head into the Ohio Valley on Tuesday afternoon and to give up its energy to a coastal storm developing along the northern North Carolina coast late Tuesday.

By Wednesday morning, the nor’easter was forecast to be intensifying strongly just east of the area and to bring heavy snow to a good part of the area through Wednesday and into Wednesday evening.

While the storm was expected to begin with a mix of rain, sleet and snow, an additional 4 to 8 inches of snow was expected to accumulate later Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.

There was also a potential for strong winds forecast – especially near the coast – predicted to possibly cause considerable blowing and drifting of snow, possibly even more than what occurred with the weekend blizzard.

Blizzard conditions were predicted to possibly develop Wednesday afternoon as winds increase, weather officials noted. A wind advisory remained in effect from 10 a.m. Wednesday to midnight Wednesday night. Winds were forecast to increase to 20 to 30 mph, with gusts to around 45 mph, mainly during Wednesday afternoon and evening.

In addition to anticipated beach erosion and possibly flooding along the inland and back bays, residents were advised to expect power outages and possibly localized property damage from the combination of the snow and strong winds.

DEC reminded the public to be safe and stay away from all downed power lines or trees touching power lines and to report the situation to the power company’s emergency center. Delaware Electric Cooperative consumers living in Sussex County who experience an outage should call the emergency service line at (302) 349-9009.

With more snow on the way, DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation officials on Tuesday asked the public to help protect the dunes in Delaware’s ocean parks by reminding residents and visitors that dunes should not be used for sledding or snowboarding.

“Dunes contain fragile habitat and provide protection for the beaches and the communities that border them. Recent storms have already caused some damage this winter. Except for marked crossings, dunes are closed year-round to pedestrian traffic and activities in Cape Henlopen and Delaware Seashore state parks,” they said.