Storm leaves drifting snow, flooding in its wake

DOVER — Even as the Blizzard of 2016 roared toward New York Saturday evening, Delaware remained shut down with Kent and New Castle counties remaining under the Level 2 driving restrictions issued by Gov. Markell in the morning.

In the storm’s wake, Delawareans will have to contend with high drifts of snow inland and flooded and battered coastal communities Sunday.

The state’s two northern counties also continue to be under a Blizzard Warning until 6 a.m. Sunday while a Winter Weather Warning remains in effect for Sussex County. That, too, is until 6 a.m. Sunday.

Under Level 2 restrictions, only “essential personnel” are allowed on Delaware roads. Essential personnel are emergency workers, those repairing public utilities, health care providers including hospital staff, snow removal equipment operators, food and fuel delivery personnel and employees of a company granted a waiver.

For central Kent, the worst of the storm may have passed but the National Weather Service’s forecast calls for more snow overnight, mainly before 2 a.m. Snow could be heavy at times and with gusts as high as 44 mph, causing snow to drift in previously cleared roads.

Chance of precipitation is 100 percent with overnight accumulation totaling 1 to 2 inches.

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency also said a Coastal Flood Warning remains in effect until noon Sunday for Kent and Sussex counties. Moderate to major coastal flooding is expected Saturday night and possibly again Sunday morning.

Snow and water

While snow, more than a foot in some areas, was the problem from Kent County north, flooding was the issue along coastal Kent and Sussex counties.

Firefighters helped about a dozen people evacuate Oak Orchard in Sussex Count. Bowers Beach  and Long Neck areas also reported flooding, according to DEMA spokesman Gary L. Laing in the agency’s 5:30 p.m. Saturday storm report.

In Kent County, Woodside recorded the most snow at 15.5 inches by 6 p.m.

Also hard hit was west Dover with 12.8 inches. Frederica and Harrington areas had 9 inches and Smyrna had 8.5, according to Delaware Environmental Observing System measurements.

In addition to the snow, the weather service warns that back bay and oceanfront flooding will continue during Saturday evening’s high tide, and for Sunday morning’s high tide.

That’s difficult news for beach towns like Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach that saw ocean waves breach dunes and send sand and saltwater into the streets. Farther south, Del. 1 was closed on both sides of the Indian River Inlet bridge.

Oak Orchard in Sussex and Bowers Beach in Kent were among the communities that saw significant flooding. Volunteer firefighters in Oak Orchard helped several residents evacuate as waters rose around homes.

Saturday afternoon Bowers Fire Chief Phillip Pennington said rising water had flooded some roadways, bringing debris with it.

“It’s just a real mess,” he said.

Firefighters also responded to gas leaks and, in one case, a man whose car was trapped by water.

Chief Pennington said the man apparently got in his car but “water breached over top of dunes” and trapped him in the vehicle. Officers responded but he was able to free himself and make it back inside his house before they arrived.

Firefighters checked on homes earlier Saturday to ensure everyone was safe and secure, he said.

The company also responded to a fire in the Frederica area, assisting the Frederica Fire Company. Chief Pennington said he did not know any details about the blaze.

Drifting snow

DEMA reported Saturday evening that major roads in New Castle County are clear but high winds and drifting snow continue to be a problem.

Some roads in Kent County are “extremely drifted, and re-covered with snow in Sussex County, particularly inland,” Mr. Laing said in the Saturday evening storm report.

Despite the driving restrictions, Delaware State Police reported Saturday more than 200 cars were disabled along roadways in the state. More than 130 collisions resulted in property damage and 13 collisions resulted in injuries, police said.

DelDOT deployed 300 plows, Gov. Markell said at a Saturday morning briefing at the DEMA center in Smyrna Saturday morning with 500 employees working around the clock since Friday afternoon to make the roads passable.

Gov. Markell urged residents to heed driving restrictions.

“Even as the storm subsides, please remain patient as DelDOT continues to clear the roads,” he said.

People can follow road clearing progress through DelDOT’s mobile app or on its website (deldot.gov).

DelDOT’s priorities Saturday night will remain on keeping primary roads clear. Also, public transportation will not be an option: all DART bus routes will be suspended for the duration of the weekend.

Power woes

Snow and wind also knocked out power for some on Delmarva. Delmarva Power reported that between the storm’s start Friday afternoon through Saturday evenng, 29,000 Delmarva Power customers were without power. The areas with the largest outages were in Sussex County and Worcester County, Maryland.

By Saturday evening, all but 1,000 customers had power restored.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Delaware Electric Cooperative’s outage map showed just over 200 customers with power. Half of those were in the Milford area.

A power failure Saturday also closed the Delaware City Refinery and released pollutants, but environmental officials said no harmful levels of pollutants were detected at the facility’s fence line or downwind from it, according to an Associated Press report.

As of Saturday night, one shelter in Delaware had opened, Sussex Central High School near Georgetown.

Delmarva was not alone in dealing with the mammoth weather system.

It dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England. By Saturday afternoon, areas near Washington had recorded more than 30 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service’s running totals.

The heaviest unofficial report was in a rural area of West Virginia, not far from Harper’s Ferry, with 40 inches.

While no deaths have been reported in Delaware, elsewhere at least 17 fatalities were blamed on the weather — most from traffic accidents, but several people also died while shoveling snow.

On Sunday, the good news is that it will be sunny with a high near 32 for those who will begin the process of digging out. The downside to the warm temperatures will be snow melting and ponding on roadways then re-freezing Sunday night when temperatures plunge into the teens.

As for possible Monday school cancellations, parents are advised to monitor schoolclosings.delaware.gov/.

Staff reporter Matt Bittle and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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