Winds, snow, power outages expected to be major impact in locally
By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Whether you call it Hurricane Sandy or “Frankenstorm,” there’s little doubt the weather that has been pounding the eastern seaboard over the past few days is one for the history books.
Like emergency coordinators across Virginia, Pulaski County Emergency Management Director Josh Tolbert said he has been taking part in regular conference calls to keep up-to-date on the storm and what to expect locally.
Tolbert said this is the first time Virginia Department of Emergency Management has had to be fully staffed for an emergency situation, and it also is the first time VDEM has had to deal with a hurricane and snowstorm at the same time.
Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm. McDonnell encouraged Virginians to prepare for possible power outages and flooding.
“Now is the time for all Virginians to prepare for those possible power outages and disruptions to public services. In addition, forecasters predict falling temperatures during and behind this system, and in areas that suffer power outages this will lead to new challenges in the days after the storm departs,” he said.
Sandy was packing 90-mile-per-hour winds and what was reported to be a record-low pressure (940 millibars) for northeastern hurricanes before making landfall late Monday.
According to Associated Press, Sandy was set to collide with a wintry storm from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. The combination superstorm was expected to impact some 50 million people in the most heavily populated corridor in the nation, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
While storm surge and winds were expected to cause most of the damage and power outages near the coast, forecasters were calling for the impacts in Pulaski County and other western parts of the state to be snow, high winds and possible power outages. Some western counties were under blizzard warnings, but the amount of snow to be expected in Pulaski County varied among forecasts from a dusting to as much as six inches.
Appalachian Power Co. was reporting about 2,800 power outages in Virginia and about 2,000 in West Virginia by late Monday. About 9,500 Dominion Virginia Power customers, primarily in northern and southeastern Virginia, were without service.
Dominion was estimating up to a million of its Virginia customers might lose power over the next few days due to the storm.
Appalachian Power started Friday making preparations for potential power outages by securing more than 350 workers from sister companies who have staged in the area to assist with power restorations.
The company was expecting the most serious threat to its system to be heavy, wet snow predicted for the high mountain areas, including the coalfield counties of southern West Virginia and far southwest Virginia. In addition, strong wind gusts could be problematic for many areas within Appalachian’s service area.
(See related story on how to report an outage and how restoration efforts proceed.)
“This weather combination will likely cause a major power outage event for us and we are preparing by staging crews in various areas in West Virginia and Virginia. At the same time, we encourage customers to have a plan in place for coping with extended, storm-related power outages,” said Phil Wright, vice president Distribution Operations.
According to AP, a curfew is in place on Virginia’s swamped Chincoteague Island, where officials say the entire 37-square-mile island is underwater. There is no way off the island because a causeway to the mainland has been closed, so the 3,500 islanders who decided to tough out Hurricane Sandy have been told to keep off the streets.
Off the coast of North Carolina, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 members of a crew forced to abandon a tall ship that started to take on water. A search continued for two other crewmembers Monday as the storm lashed barrier islands and rendered several homes and businesses nearly inaccessible.
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley closed the Bay Bridge because of the storm. The bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, connecting the state’s eastern and western shores. Hurricane Sandy already has caused heavy damage to a large, iconic ocean pier in the Maryland beach resort of Ocean City.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for West Virginia Monday, where Sandy was expected to bring high winds and heavy rains and leave behind flooded towns and as much as three feet of snow on the state’s highest ridge tops. Eastern parts of the state were told to expect up to six inches of rain. Fourteen counties were under blizzard warnings Monday.