County catches its breath after Sandy
A week after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy slammed the region, schools are back on a regular schedule, the phones work, the roads are clear and all but a handful of people in Pocahontas County have electricity once again.
Many are counting their blessings that the storm didn't do as much damage here as in neighboring Nicholas, Webster and Randolph counties, where heavy, wet snow caused roofs to collapse and many still remain without electricity.
Making its mark just four months after the powerful windstorm that ripped through the county, Pocahontas County Emergency Management Director Shawn Dunbrack said the community was much better prepared to weather this storm.
"We had a week's worth of warning," said Dunbrack. "We were very pleased with how well people took the warning to prepare."
While the June 29 derecho wind storm disrupted phone and electrical service for as long as two weeks for many customers, Dunbrack noted that Pocahontas County—and the state—saw fewer communications disruptions from Sandy. Because of this, Dunbrack said communication from the local to state level was clearer and more regular. Dunbrack's office provided regular county-wide updates on the storm's impacts and status of shelters and relief efforts at least twice a day until power was restored to the majority of Pocahontas County residents.
The county's highest elevations saw the worst of the storm. West Virginia Route 39 across Kennison Mountain was closed to traffic due to the snow and downed trees, Dunbrack's office reported. Atop Snowshoe Mountain, Sandy delivered two feet of snow and 60-mile-per-hour winds.
"With our elevation, and position in the storm’s path, we emerged as the focal point of the snow side of the national hurricane story, with all the top weather news crews broadcasting live from our mountaintop village, and 'blizzard' video re-broadcast to news outlets in over 120 cities in the United States and abroad," wrote Snowshoe President and CEO Frank DeBerry on the resort's website.
DeBerry noted that normal operations at the resort were rachetted down, "as many staff members were asked to stay at home and keep off the slick roads—our goal being the safety and well-being of all employees and guests."
"We are very pleased with the efforts of public safety personnel, resort mountain operations staff, and our neighbors in the community and the county, working together to deliver on the flawless planning and execution that proved itself over the course of a couple of rough days," DeBerry added.
Snowmaking has since commenced at the resort, with a target opening date of November 21.
The storm's snowfall was highly elevation dependent, noted Ken Batty, of the National Weather Service's Charleston office.
Marlinton saw barely an inch of short-lived snow, with amounts increasing up to several inches further north along the Greenbrier River Valley.
"We were highlighting this storm as being very elevation-dependent when we put the Blizzard Warning out," said Batty.
The storm's maximum snowfall followed the "spine" of West Virginia, Batty explained, starting from the Virginia-Kentucky-West Virginia border area, running north to the state's southern plateau area around Beckley and through Nicholas, Webster, the high terrain of western Pocahontas County and northward through Randolph and Tucker counties to Garret County, Maryland.
"The Greenbrier River Valley itself was just east of the heavy snow band," said Batty.
As the storm approached the state, Batty said the Charleston office of the NWS was as busy as he's ever seen it in his more than 30 years there.
"We don't issue Blizzard Warnings lightly here," said Batty. "It certainly was a rare event to see a tropical feature get absorbed by... what we call the Polar Jetstream diving in... That's what caused Sandy to suddenly hook to the left and come into the Mid-Atlantic."
"It might be a once-in-a-lifetime combination of events," Batty said.
During the storm, the NWS worked closely with state officials and emergency management personnel to provide information and aid in coordinating their efforts, said Batty.
While sunny skies and calm weather have returned to the area, Sandy's impact may continue to be felt this winter, noted Batty. By dumping so much snow and moisture on the ground this early in the season, Batty said the NWS may have to account for the added groundwater and wetter soils through March.
"We may have the effects of this snow throughout the winter, in terms of what may happen in terms of water levels as we go through late winter and early spring," said Batty. "The ground won't really dry out again until we get really into the higher sun angles—that's March and April."