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National Weather Service issues blizzard warnings for W.Va. counties

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A blizzard warning is in effect for 10 West Virginia counties until Wednesday and state residents are being told to prepare for power outages as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast.

The storm will make landfall in New Jersey late tonight but is already causing problems for West Virginia. Heavy rains and snow were forecast for the remainder of the week for the Mountain State, according to the National Weather Service.

"It's all part of the same thing," said Jonathan Wolfe, a meteorologist at the Charleston office and the agency's emergency response specialist. "It's a complicated system.

"It's going to come ashore in New Jersey and hang out in Pennsylvania for most of the week, but that's going to pull some cold air down from the northwest and cause some issues here."

The cold will wrap around the storm, sending snow and rain into West Virginia.

The blizzard warning is in effect from noon today through Wednesday afternoon for McDowell, Wyoming, Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Webster, Randolph, Pocahontas, Tucker and Preston counties.

Mercer, Summers, Monroe and Greenbrier counties were on a winter storm warning while the Eastern and Northern Panhandles were on a high wind warning and winter storm watch.  

Lower elevations could see a few inches, but Wolfe said most of the snow will fall in elevations of 2,000 feet and higher.  

Locales above 3,000 feet could expect between 1 and 2 feet of snow. Snowshoe in Pocahontas County could see 2 feet of snow. Areas below 2,000 feet could see 1 to 6 inches.

Local soil temperatures remain in the 60-degree range, making it difficult for snow to stick, Wolfe said.

Wind gusts up to 60 mph also are expected in higher elevations. Wolfe said lower areas would see 45 mph gusts.

Heavy rains were expected for most of today and into tomorrow for the western portion of the state. Wolfe said two inches of rain was forecast for "most places" though those in the Eastern Panhandle might see more.

"There's a lot of complicated things going on," Wolfe said. "This is a widespread storm and it will last quite a while. It will be raining most of the week."

Wolfe advised residents to prepare for power outages.

Power preparations

Appalachian Power crews already have called in more than 350 workers in preparation for the storm, according to a statement issued Sunday evening. Appalachian Power has more than one million customers in West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia.

The company began preparing for the storm Friday, aware of the potential power outages the hurricane could cause. The most serious threat was the heavy wet snow forecast for the high mountains, West Virginia's southern coalfields and southwest Virginia, the release said.  

"This weather combination will likely cause a major power outage event for us and we are preparing by staging crews in various areas in West Virginia and Virginia," Phil Wright, vice president of distribution operations, said in the release.

"At the same time, we encourage customers to have a plan in place for coping with extended, storm related power outages."

First Energy, the parent company of MonPower and Potomac Edison, issued a statement Sunday urging customers to be prepared for outages. The company also provides service for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which face the brunt of the hurricane.

"Torrential rain, high winds and the threat of excessive flooding have the potential to cause significant damage to the electrical system in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland, which could result in power outages lasting up to seven to 10 days," the release said.

"In addition, extended forecasts show the potential for snow and high winds in the company's Ohio, central Pennsylvania and West Virginia service areas."

More than 700 First Energy linemen, hazard crews and internal support teams were secured for recovery work throughout the company's service area. In addition to those teams, between 500 and 600 electrical contractors were secured and nearly 1,000 tree contractors were put on standby.

Those crews will be dispatched to the hardest-hit areas.

Emergency readiness

In a statement Sunday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked residents to be prepared for the unknown. He said state government was "preparing for all scenarios."

He advised residents to gather batteries, flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable foods, blankets, medications, battery-operated radios and other necessities. He also asked residents to be sure to check on their families, friends and neighbors.

"Our West Virginia National Guard and other resources are on standby, so that we may act quickly if needed," Tomblin said. "Our Department of Highways staff is on call and ready - they have tested their plows and other snow equipment and are scheduled to begin work at midnight tonight."

He said the state's emergency response team is holding conference calls twice a day with local, state and federal emergency responders. The state Office of Emergency Services is open and keeping watch on the situation.

Jennifer Sayre, Kanawha County Manager, said emergency officials worked all weekend on storm preparations with no idea what they will be up against.

"It's up in the air, literally, right now," Sayre said. "They're still saying for our area they don't know if it will be rain or snow. We just don't know."

Sunday morning's forecast for Kanawha County showed snow for the rest of the week with little accumulation, but that changed by Sunday evening when the forecast showed only rain with temperatures in the mid to low 40s.

Emergency officials were working with Metro 911 to make sure the Emergency Operations Center at Metro 911 was ready in case it is needed. They also contacted all fire and police departments were made aware of the impending storms. Water rescue teams were put on standby.

Sayre said if it continued to rain steadily that a flood warning would likely be issued.

She said residents should be prepared for whatever came. Replacing batteries in flashlights and smoke detectors, getting emergency kits ready, checking on generators and stocking up with non-perishable food items were all good ideas, she said.

Voters Registration will remain open tomorrow and through the week for early voting. She said that could change if the weather worsened.

There were also questions on whether the county's Trick or Treat would go on as planned Tuesday evening, she said, but nothing had been decided as of Sunday evening.

For more information on how you can prepare, please visit: www.ready.wv.gov.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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