Snow slams state: Forecast challenging in Delmarva region

24dsn DelDot Snow Prep 001 by .

DelDOT trucks head out of the Cheswold Yard Friday ready to tackle a very snowy weekend ahead. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — After speculating for days about its possible strength, Delawareans finally experienced Winter Storm Jonas for real as it arrived here overnight.

Up to 20 inches of snow are possible for Dover when it’s done Sunday morning, though the National Weather Service forecast included a low estimate of 10 inches or so. The chance of precipitation was listed at 100 percent and continuing throughout Saturday.

By Sunday, any new snow — half an inch at most — is expected to fall before 7 a.m., the NWS said. Mostly sunny skies with temperatures between 34 and 39 degrees are predicted to follow through Monday afternoon, according to the forecast.

Just before 3 p.m. Friday, the first tiny flakes of snow were spotted falling near Dover Air Force Base. Less than 20 minutes later the white stuff in the air had increased noticeably.

While weather is often difficult to predict, doing so in the Delmarva region can be even more challenging.

Dan Leathers, a University of Delaware professor and the Delaware state climatologist, said Delaware’s location makes its weather forecasts fickle.

“Delaware and the Delmarva is tough because it usually, especially with winter weather, is where you find the dividing line between all snow and mixed and then rain,” he said.

The major bodies of water in the region play a large role in that, with warm winds blowing off the Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean turning snow into sleet or rain.

That is especially prevalent in Sussex County, where coastal flooding can be a major threat.

Sussex also generally receives less snow, which forecasts predict will be evident in this storm.

While Wilmington could get up to 22 inches, according to the NWS, Lewes has a maximum of about 7 inches — still a large amount but one that pales in comparison to the hit at northern Delaware will be hit by.

While all winter weather forms as a result of perfect conditions, this weather event is “kind of the classic setup for snowstorms for Delaware,” Dr. Leathers said.

Cold air coming from the north collides with a moisture-carrying storm to dump flakes on the ground below.

“In this case it looks like for the northern part of the state all those factors come together,” Dr. Leathers said.

If expectations pan out, Delaware could end up with a historic snowstorm. A total of 18 inches would put the storm in the top 20 in state history and could make it the biggest since a February 2010 double whammy in less than a week’s time.

The storm also is expected to include heavy winds, which could lead to snow drifts in New Castle and Kent, Dr. Leathers said.

National Guard ready

The Delaware National Guard coordinated with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to position personnel and vehicles throughout the state to meet the storm’s arrival.

According to the National Guard on Friday, approximately 125 soldiers and airmen went onto standby status, ready to provide support where needed. Officials said most personnel were vehicle operators ready to transport safety, police and first responders to locations, medical workers to hospital, and to assist stranded motorists, among other possible missions.

“We also can provide traffic control, access control points and medical personnel should medical shelters be operational,” a National Guard news release read.

Vehicles were first located at the Wilmington Readiness Center, the Smyrna Readiness Center and National Guard Armory sites in Georgetown and on the Newport Gap Pike. Command staff was stationed in each operational armory, with liaison officers supporting Emergency Operations Centers in Kent, Sussex and New Castle counties.

Delmarva Power said it had internal crews available 24 hours a day throughout the weekend, with approximately 430 line personnel available, along with mutual assistance commitments from more than 450 line personnel to be utilized by Pepco Holdings.

Delaware Electric Cooperative crews went on standby Friday night, with contract crews ready as backup, spokesman Jeremy Tucker said.

“Delaware’s coastal areas will be particularly vulnerable because of the threat of moderate to major coastal flooding,” Mr. Tucker said. “During the storm, Co-op crews will work to restore power to the largest number of people first. After transmission and distribution lines are fixed, crews will then fix problems in smaller neighborhoods or problems at individual homes.”

“The winter storm that we’re experiencing has the potential to cause widespread power outages,” said Delaware Public Advocate David Bonar. “High winds and drifting snow will make it difficult for crews to restore power.

“Making sure you have blankets, water, batteries for your lights and radio, non perishable foods and needed toiletries will help you in case of power outages. Remember, Delmarva Power as well as Delaware Electric Cooperative and our various municipal power companies have crews on duty and on standby. If you lose power, be patient. Power can’t be restored with a simple flip of a switch. The safety of crews and residents is paramount and they will get to you as quickly as possible.”

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