and John Raby
CHARLESTON, W.Va.: Snowplows were out in parts of the southern Appalachian mountains Monday, preparing for as much as 3 feet of snow in higher elevations spawned by the merger of a wintry storm with Hurricane Sandy.
The early snowfall could be a boon for the area’s ski resorts, which have sometimes struggled to keep their slopes open with a warming climate.
Forecasters in West Virginia expanded a blizzard warning to at least 14 counties for high winds and heavy, wet snow. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency.
“We’re not taking it lightly,” Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Gene Tracy said. “We’re preparing for the worst — power outages — and getting ready to cut trees if they block the roads.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Axford said the overwhelming majority of residents live in lower elevations where significantly less snow was expected. No significant power outages were reported Monday.
Highway crews embarked on snow-removal efforts in several areas, including along Interstates 64 and 77 in West Virginia. Schools were closed in at least 11 counties.
Sandy messily morphed from hurricane into hybrid storm, losing the hurricane part of its name, but not the weather mayhem surrounding it.
The National Hurricane Center officially pronounced the storm “post-tropical” Monday evening, as the center of Sandy perched 20 miles south of Atlantic City, knocking at the coast’s door. The change is part of a transition into a more diffuse storm that is bigger and sloppier, even as its force weakened.
Sandy continues to merge with what was once two cold weather systems already dumping snow in West Virginia, forming what the hurricane center calls post-tropical and others call Frankenstorm or Perfect Storm 2. Whatever name it visits as, it isn’t leaving the Eastern U.S. anytime soon.
By late afternoon, the snow was coming down hard in Elkins, W.Va., where folks were taking it in stride.
Most were less concerned with the snow and more concerned about being without power for days on end, as they were after the late June “derecho” wind storm.
Brandy Wildman, 35, was buying a tank of propane so she could cook on the grill if the power to her Mill Creek home failed.
“I’ve lived in West Virginia my whole life, so the snow doesn’t bother me,” she said. “What does bother me is, last time, we were without power for nine days. And that’s a problem, because it’s going to be cold.”
Ben Clark, a stay-at-home dad and college graduate student, bought a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine at a convenience store, after previously stocking up on supplies for his 5-month- and 4-year-old sons.
“We have plenty of food in the fridge, and we’re avid, outdoor-hiking-recreation people, so we’ve got camp stoves and all kinds of stuff,” Clark said. “I’m actually ready to put the cross-country skis on.’’
Farther south in Boone, N.C., as much as a foot of snow was expected at higher elevations as the temperature hovered just below freezing. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue expanded her earlier emergency declaration to include 24 mountain counties.
Watauga County Emergency Management Director Steve Sudderth said wet, heavy snow began falling early Monday morning but the ground was warm enough to keep it from sticking to roads. Most of it was accumulating above 4,000 feet. Boone averages nearly 3 feet of snowfall each winter.
Sugar Mountain spokeswoman Kim Jochl said Monday the ski resort had already received a couple inches of natural snow and snow makers had been running since Sunday night.
The resort plans to open Wednesday for Halloween, the earliest Sugar has ever been able to open in 43 years of operation. Jochl said the earliest opening date previously was Nov. 6, 1976.
In Kentucky, transportation crews were preparing their equipment to clear snow.
“The temperatures are still fairly warm, so we will not be pre-treating,” said Miranda Thacker, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “We will begin plowing when the snow starts to fall.”
In the mountain counties of Virginia, residents rushed to hardware and grocery stores to stock up.
In Damascus, Va., Corinne Cole was buying a kerosene heater in case the power went out, plus a 5-gallon fuel container and a candle.
“I’m ready. Got lots of food, alcohol and party supplies. And cat food for the cat,” she said.