WEATHER ALERT: Travel ban lifted as blizzard conditions end with more than 15 inches of snowfall

Snow from this weekend’s blizzard had begun to taper off around 8 p.m. on Saturday night, leaving much of the state paralyzed and snowbound, and tens of thousands without power, with as many as 39,000 homes and businesses left in the dark at peak impact from the storm. Restoration of power could take multiple days, officials warned, urging those without power to consider seeking emergency shelter.

Snowfall totals jumped from less than 9 inches in Selbyville about 1 p.m. on Saturday to 15.6 inches as of 8 p.m. (See live snow totals online at Non-emergency vehicles had been ordered off roadways in the state since 10 p.m. on Friday night, but though a State of Emergency remained in effect on Saturday night, the ban on non-emergency travel was being lifted Saturday night at 8 p.m. Officials nonetheless encouraged residents to stay home unless seeking emergency shelter.

As one of the worst winter storms in recent memory abated Saturday night, DelDOT crews planned to continue working to clear the roadways into the evening hours. They will continue to concentrate on primary roads to get them clear, before turning their attention to secondary roads, officials said. Currently, many roads in New Castle County are passable, while fewer roads in Kent are. Passable means not that the road is clear, but that it is possible to drive on it if one goes very slowly.

In Sussex County, though, plowing crews were temporarily recalled to their maintenance yards when near-whiteout conditions made it impossible for drivers to see, posing a risk to their safety. Crews will be taking a break to rest up, coming off the roads about 11:30 p.m. and resuming work around 5 a.m. on Sunday, they noted.

“Our first priority is the safety of our own personnel,” said DelDOT spokesman Jim Westhoff. “We don’t want to endanger them in any way while they work to make the roads safe for others. They are the true warriors in this storm as they’ve been fighting Mother Nature for more than 24 hours now.”

Roads re-opened to non-emergency travel at 8 p.m. Saturday

The State of Emergency declared by Gov. Jack Markell at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 5, remains in effect until official notice is issued by the governor’s office and Delaware Emergency Management Agency. However, it has been modified to lift the driving restriction beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday night.

State officials are continuing to monitor weather and road conditions throughout the state; there is no indication at this time that it is safe to lift the State of Emergency completely, and residents with power are being strongly encouraged to remain in their homes and not venture out.

Since the beginning of the storm, Delaware State Police have reported just six injury crashes, but 44 property damage crashes and 235 reports of disabled vehicles. Even though snow has stopped falling, troopers said that road conditions are still making it difficult for them to respond to complaints and asked for the public’s patience and cooperation.

“What this tells us is that not everyone listened to the governor’s Executive Order,” said Andrea Summers spokesperson for the Office of Highway Safety. “The public’s safety is our priority. Even though driving restrictions have been lifted, we urge people not to take to the roads tonight and Sunday just for the purpose of sightseeing so crews have more time and easier access to clear roads. Please don’t endanger yourselves or others unnecessarily.”

Shelters open as thousands remain without power, possibly for days to come

One of the greatest challenges resulting from this storm, officials said, has been widespread power outages – particularly in Delaware’s central and southern counties. Approximately 38,000 households were without power Saturday evening, most in Kent and Sussex counties. New Castle County seemed to be the least affected, with Delmarva Power reporting just 21 households without power. Of the remaining households without power, most of them were in Sussex.

Representatives of both Delmarva Power and Delaware Electric Cooperative said that the excessive amounts of snow that has fallen has hampered power restoration efforts. According to Delmarva Power spokesperson Bill Yingling, “Our first priority is public health and safety and that we are restoring service as quickly and safely as possible to customers who are without service. We do, however, expect that this will be an extended event and that this restoration could last at least several days in some areas. We appreciate the patience of our customers and community leaders as we work together to recover from this storm.”

Delaware Electric Cooperative personnel said they have been severely hampered by the snow covered roads and is advising their members without power to consider their need to relocate to an emergency shelter in Sussex or Kent county because the restoration effort will be a multiple-day event. Crews from states as far away as Connecticut and North Carolina are heading to Delaware Electric Coop to assist them with their power restoration efforts on Sunday.

For those who determine they need emergency shelter, there are four shelters opening in Kent and Sussex counties. Contact local County Emergency Management Agency to see what time they open. They are as follows:
• Sussex Central High School, 26026 Patriots Way, Georgetown, DE 19947
• Cape Henlopen High School, 1250 Kings Highway, Lewes, DE 19958
For transportation to a shelter in Sussex County, contact the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center at 302-856-7366. The Delaware National Guard has also been assisting with transportation to existing shelters in each county throughout the day using their Humvees and will likely continue to do so as families without power decide to seek shelter.
• Dover High School, 1 Pat Lynn Drive, Dover, DE 19904
• Milford Middle School, 612 Lakeview Avenue, Milford, DE 19963
For transportation to a shelter in Kent County, contact the Kent County Emergency Operations Center at 302-735-3465.

A total of 275 soldiers and airmen are currently deployed throughout the state with 75 vehicles (wreckers, LMTVs and Humvees) supporting emergency operations centers, fire houses, EM, and law enforcement. They have been working 50 different support missions ranging from emergency worker transport, moving abandoned vehicles, assisting stranded motorists, recovery of ambulance and fire trucks, medical aid transport, and law enforcement transport.

There will be no Sunday DART service on Feb. 7, 2010. DART operates a Sunday schedule in New Castle County. There will also be no paratransit service on Sunday. DART anticipates operating a normal schedule on Monday, Feb. 8.

Household safety important during winter storms

With a heavy winter storm finally winding down across the state, residents are being urged to think about household safety as they adapt to being snowed in for a while. The National Weather Service reported that snow was slacking off for much of Delaware. However, snow accumulations were already well over the 1-foot mark in many locations from Laurel to Greenville. DelDOT road crews have worked since pre-dawn hours, but constant snow fall, coupled with high winds, means that areas that have been partially cleared have usually been overblown with snow.

For those who are now housebound, officials said it is important to avoid actions that could lead to accidents or emergencies. Should there be power outages, candles or other unshielded open flame lamps should not be used as a light source. Make sure your flashlights or battery operated lanterns are handy. If using auxiliary heat sources, such as small electric heaters, do not stretch cords across rooms or place cords under rugs. If using kerosene heaters, make sure there is adequate ventilation. Never leave such heating appliances unattended.

If you do experience a power outage, open your refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. Food will remain frozen in a freezer or stay fresh in a refrigerator for several hours if not opened too frequently.

According to Delmarva Power, if you use a gas powered generator during a power outage, keep it outside to ensure that the exhaust is properly ventilated. They should not be operated in a garage or basement or near an open window. Appliances should be connected directly to the generator with an extension cord. Do not connect a portable electric generator to household wiring without properly isolating the home’s electric system from the local power system. This will help minimize the risk of injury or death to others who are near or working on the system.

Those who do go outside should wear layers of clothing and a hat and gloves. Keeping ears and fingers protected is important, especially for children and for all ages during windy conditions. If shoveling snow, use caution when bending and lifting, let your legs do more work than your back and shoulders. Pace yourself, especially if you are not used to regular aerobic exercise. Don’t strain your heart for the sake of a snow-free walk.

With the deep accumulations of snow, pets that are allowed outside should be watched carefully and accompanied if possible. Deep snow and white-out conditions can be very disorienting to pets. Pads of paws can also suffer from prolonged exposure to cold.
Flood advisory in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday

The intense low pressure system east of the Delmarva peninsula will gradually move out to sea during today and tonight. This storm will produce a strong onshore flow today. A coastal flood advisory remains in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday. The onshore flow and wave action will cause minor tidal flooding with the high tide cycles through Sunday morning. The most widespread minor tidal flooding is expected with the high tide Saturday afternoon. Wave action will exacerbate the tidal flooding and also cause more beach erosion.

High tides occur between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. today. High tides on early Sunday morning will occur between 2 and 4 a.m. High tides occur later on the back bays and also on Delaware Bay.

Current expectations are for the tidal flooding to peak in the minor range. However, some local moderate tidal flooding cannot be ruled out especially in southern Delaware. Do not park your vehicle in areas prone to tidal flooding or take roadways that are prone to tidal flooding.

Weather officials noted that another low pressure system may affect the area with some wintry weather later Tuesday into Wednesday.