‘Serious storm’ blasts Delaware

Brandon Pelton, owner of 33 Ale House in Dover, shovels in front of his business on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — After hours of snowfall and high winds continued to create problems, especially downstate, Gov. John Carney declared a state of emergency in Sussex County Thursday afternoon and all 19 public school districts closed Friday for a second snow day in Delaware.

Nearly seven hours after handing down a driving restriction for Sussex, Gov. Carney upgraded that warning and declared a state of emergency for the southernmost county, where residents along the coast received more than half a foot of snow, with 9 inches recorded in Stockley as of 3 p.m.

The state of emergency went into effect at 2 p.m., and the governor authorized the Delaware National Guard to help authorities respond to the storm if necessary. At 1 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Carney imposed a Level 2 driving restriction, prohibiting motorists from operating on roadways unless they were deemed to be “essential personnel” — such as emergency services crews, utility workers, health care providers, snow plow drivers, food and fuel deliverers.

Temperatures that hovered in the low 20s in the central and lower part of the state Thursday were expected to drop overnight, hitting possible lows of 10 degrees with wind chill values of minus 9 degrees.

Sustained 30 mph winds with gusts of up to 46 mph along the coast caused snow drifts and exacerbated already hazardous conditions throughout Thursday.

Dart First State announced it would only operate transportation services in Sussex on Friday for dialysis paratransit customers. All services in Kent and New Castle County are expected to operate with likely delays on Friday, according to an email from Julie Theyerl, marketing and public affairs officer.

The Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Kent and Sussex said they will open at 10 a.m. Friday, two hours later than normal. The facility in Wilmington was scheduled to open as normal.

“This is a serious storm, and Delawareans across Sussex County should stay off the roadways as conditions continue to worsen,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “That will help personnel from the Delaware Department of Transportation more effectively clear the roadways, and help us provide services to our neighbors most in need.”

Many people seemed to listen to officials urging residents to stay inside and out of the way of the state’s snow removal and emergency response crews.

Allan Scrutchfield, a resident of Hartly, said he spent Thursday watching the birds around his bird feeder.

“I would rather be working but I am smart enough to know that’s not possible and staying off the roads so DelDOT can clear the roads,” said Mr. Scrutchfield, a consultant inspector who works with DelDOT. “The roads have been plowed several times but remain snow covered.

“I do like watching the birds at my bird feeder, it has been ‘Starling Central’ most of the day. I am amazed at how fast people are driving past my house. Four-wheel drive gives people a sense of confidence.”

According to the Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS), at least 3 inches of snow had fallen in most of Kent County as of 4:30 p.m., with a high of 5.3 inches in Harrington. As expected, Sussex County was hit worse with at least 7 inches throughout the county and a high of 11.4 inches in Stockley.

A DelDOT snowplow works on Canterbury Road on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Of course, most people shoveling would argue — accurately — that drifts were much higher than those totals indicate.

Kevin Brinson, director of DEOS, noted the tricky business of measuring snowfall.

“Snow is difficult to measure without the wind as a factor, but wind like this makes it extremely difficult. Our sensors use sound to measure distance to the ground beneath it, which concerts to a snow depth as the distance changes during the storm,” he said. “It’s very precise and accurate at the location where it’s taking measurements. But the difficulty is getting a measurement that’s representative. That’s why we have 26 sensors in Delaware because some are bound to have some drift effects. More locations ensures that we capture the spatial variability of the snow storm accurately as well. We also have an extensive automated and manual quality control system for our data to ensure the values are as accurate as possible.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange said the county’s 911 emergency call center had been relatively quiet all day.

“It’s probably reflective of most people hunkering down and deciding not to go anywhere which is a good thing,” he said.

The county did run into a few issues at its wastewater treatment facility outside Milford.

“The dropping temperatures did cause some minor issues related to the biosolids at the treatment plant, but we were able to quickly get them under control,” Mr. Petit de Mange said. “We’ll probably continue to be plagued with little logistical issues like that while we’re in this cold plunge throughout Friday and into the weekend. But, our maintenance people will be monitoring equipment closely.”

One unfortunate outcome of the winter storm, he noted, was that residents who rely on the county for trash pickup are seeing a delay in service.

“With the holiday weekend, our normal trash schedule was already pushed back a day, but on Thursday, our contractor was not able to make pick ups either,” he said. “Now there’s an even bigger impact on people waiting for their trash service. The hope is, if conditions improve, we’ll be able to resume on Friday and catch back up as quickly as possible, but it’s unknown at this point.”

Residents affected by delayed trash pickup can visit co.kent.de.us for updates on when behind schedule pickups will occur.

Restrictions begin early

A level 1 limit, which encourages motorists not to drive except in an emergency, began in Sussex County at 7:30 a.m. Thursday.

Officials announced at 5 a.m. state government offices were closed, although essential employees were instructed to report to work as usual. The closure was later extended to cover evening shifts.

Gabrielle Fay, an employee with the state transportation department, said she was happy when she looked out her window in Dover and saw the snow on Thursday morning and then got word that work was closed.

“I got a much-needed vacation day,” she said. “It’s great when you actually have an excuse not to leave the house.”

All three county government offices were closed Thursday, and every one of the state’s 19 school districts canceled classes. Caesar Rodney School District made the decision at 1 p.m. Thursday to close Friday, Jan. 5, although full-time employees at Caesar Rodney were instructed to report two hours late.

A Code Purple was declared statewide in advance of the winter storm that began Wednesday evening and many locations housing the homeless were expected to remain open through the weekend given the forecast. For information or assistance, call Delaware 2-1-1, visit www.delaware211.org or call the Delaware Housing Alliance’s Centralized Intake Line at 654-0126 ext. 112.

Power outages

As of Thursday afternoon, the Delaware Electrical Cooperative was reporting outages for about 300 homes. The utility has a total of 95,000 members in the state — many in rural areas. Co-op spokesman Jeremy Tucker said that they were “faring better than expected, so far.”

“Several car accidents involving utility poles led to outages and a tree fell onto power lines near Delmar,” he said. “We expect scattered outages to continue through the day as the storm winds down. Additional outages are also possible through Friday as winds are expected to continue to gust to 40 mph. Crews will be on call 24/7 and will respond to every outage as soon as they can. So far, the cold temperatures kept the snow light and fluffy, meaning it didn’t stick to trees and power lines.”

For Dover’s part, city spokeswoman Kay Sass said the priority was to keep critical routes open for emergency responders and other work crews.

“We are doing well so far with electric and water service — our biggest issue is of course the snowfall and winds,” she said Thursday afternoon. “Efforts are having to be repeated over and over just to keep our emergency and critical routes open. This has prevented us from being able to move on to other areas as quickly as we’d like. It will be like this until the winds decrease, as these routes have to be the primary focus. Our crews are on 12-hour shifts for the duration.”

Delaware State Police had seen the brunt of the impact in Sussex County, based on preliminary numbers, with 22 disabled vehicles and a property damage accident reported between midnight and noon Thursday. As of midnight Wednesday, there had been 17 property damage crashes and 69 disabled vehicles in Sussex County.

Terri Hice avoided that kind of roadway trouble. She elected to do her job at Edgewell from home in west Dover after encountering poor road conditions in Kent.

“I actually tried to go into work as we were actually open (Thursday) but Route 8 was so bad and unplowed I had to turn around and go home. So I get to work from my dining room table (Thursday) and watch the winter wonderland outside.”

“I love sitting inside and watching the snow outside make everything white and pretty,” Mrs. Hice said. “All the little songbirds are gathered around our feeders since food is scarce under the snow.

Christian Burkert, owner of State Street Motors in Camden, said he went into work despite the wintry weather conditions.

“It’s not busy, I’m just taking the day to catch up on paperwork,” he said.

He said that his girlfriend, Jessica Carlston, who got to enjoy the snow day declared the best part of as “staying in your pajamas all day long.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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