State of emergency for Sussex as snow, winds continue to hit state

DOVER — A blizzard warning for coastal Delaware, a hazardous weather outlook and winter storm warning for the rest of the state remains in effect until tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures currently hovering in the low 20s in the central and lower part of the state are expected to drop further this evening, hitting possible lows of 10 degrees.

Current wind speeds are about 18 mph, with intermittent gusts of up to 33 mph — and the weather service noted those gusts are expected to increase. Sustained 30 mph winds with 46 mph gusts are expected along the coast this evening, causing snow drifts and exacerbating already hazardous conditions.

With that weather forecast, public school districts across Delaware began Thursday afternoon announcing closures for Friday. 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 will open at 10 a.m. Friday, two hours later than normal. The facility in Wilmington will open as normal.

Gov. John Carney issued a state of emergency for Sussex County and imposed Level 2 driving restrictions, which means that no person may operate a motor vehicle on Delaware roadways, except for persons designated as “essential personnel.”

“This is a serious storm, and Delawareans across Sussex County should stay off the roadways as conditions continue to worsen,” he 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.”

By Delaware law, essential personnel is:

• Operators of snow removal equipment;

• Persons providing public utility services;

• Persons providing healthcare services; and

• Persons providing food and fuel deliveries.

As of Thursday morning, snowfall was expected to continue throughout the afternoon. The weather service held their predictions of totals between 6 to 8 inches in Kent County and 8 to 12 inches in Sussex County by this evening.

According to the Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS), about 3 inches of snow had already fallen in most of Kent County as of 2 p.m., with a high of 5 inches in Harrington. As expected, Sussex County was hit worse with about 7 inches in Rehoboth Beach and Lewes and 7.5 inches and Dagsboro. The highest total recorded so far is just under 9 inches in Stockley.

In the central and lower part of the state, tomorrow is expected to be sunny with no new snowfall, but conditions are unlikely to improve. The weather service forecasts temperatures in the high teens with wind chill values of minus 9 degrees and continued gusty winds.

Delaware Electrical Cooperative lineman work to restore power after a utility pole was struck by a vehicle along Atlanta Road near Seaford on Thursday. (submitted photo)

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 has been 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. “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.

Reporters Matt Bittle and Craig Anderson contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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