WEATHER ALERT: Snow/rain mix across eastern Sussex, State of Emergency in Kent, New Castle counties [UPDATED, 3:45 p.m.]

WEATHER ALERT: Snow/rain mix across eastern Sussex, State of Emergency in Kent, New Castle counties [UPDATED, 3:45 p.m.]

As heavy snow continued to blanket the entire state on Dec. 19, state officials said agencies were working hard to keep the primary roads passable and tending to stranded motorists. Additionally, Gov. Jack Markell declared a State of Emergency for New Castle and Kent counties, effective at 3 p.m. Saturday. Motorists are being strongly encouraged to keep all non-emergency vehicles off Delaware roads in those counties. The State of Emergency does not yet extend to Sussex County, though state safety and transportation officials are also encouraging motorists in Sussex to stay off the roads as well unless absolutely necessary.

Crews from Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) have been on the road since the early morning hours, officials said. The plows and other vehicles are being deployed to the primary roads. With the heavy snowfall, crews have to cover the same stretch of road repeatedly, so that the surface will remain passable for traffic.

Passable means that, as long as it is driven slowly and carefully, a vehicle should be able to drive on the surface. However, passable does not mean clear. Motorists should use extreme caution if they absolutely must drive on the roads. Many secondary roads in Delaware are not passable, because they have yet to be plowed. Additionally, many of them have more than 10 inches of snow.

The latest weather update provided to state officials shows that winds will intensify as the storm progresses throughout the day, and 20 to 25 mph with higher gusts will occur. High winds with heavy snowfall at times will result in blizzard conditions and white-out periods during the afternoon to evening hours. Storm totals will vary from 12 to 20 inches statewide with the coastal areas of Sussex County expecting 7-8 inches.

The Office of Highway Safety is reminding motorists that high gusting winds make driving particularly difficult for higher-profile vehicles, such as trucks, vans and SUV’s. The winds may push drivers out of their lane into someone else’s. Those who absolutely must drive Saturday should first make sure to clear off the roof and hood of their vehicle, not just the windshield. The high winds will blow the snow off vehicles toward other vehicles, potentially scaring them and causing them to lose control.

The Delaware State Police (DSP) was reporting as of mid-afternoon that there had been as many as 30 crashes since midnight, with three of them resulting in injuries, but none of the injuries thus far were life-threatening. There have been 11 crashes in Sussex County, 19 in New Castle and none in Kent that state police have investigated. State police also advised that all lanes of I-95 in the area of Route 141 were open again after a crash involving a jack-knifed tractor-trailer was cleared.

Sussex County is experiencing some flooding in the back-bay areas in Oak Orchard, and Route 1 near the Indian River Inlet Bridge is experiencing water in the northbound right lane with some blowing sand.

Other transportation updates to take not of: The Cape May Lewis Ferry suspended operations at approximately 12:45 p.m.; the Delaware Memorial Bridge is restricted vehicle speeds to 25 mph, and Delaware Transit Corporations will be halting operations as early as 6 p.m. Saturday evening. Paratransit services will only be doing dialysis runs after the State of Emergency takes effect.

Winter storm warnings continue through Sunday morning

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., has issued a winter storm warning for the area, to remain in effect through 6 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20. A major winter storm will affect the region through Saturday night, with heavy snow and gusty winds. The storm off the North Carolina coast early Saturday morning will continue to intensify as it heads northeast, passing to the east of the middle Atlantic coast on Saturday night.

Snow will fall heavy at times on Saturday, with snowfall rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour possible. Storm total snowfall is expected to be 12 to 20 inches across the area. The highest amounts are expected in parts of southern New Jersey, inland Delaware and northeast Maryland. Along the coast of Delaware, rain is forecast for Saturday morning. The rain will change to snow this afternoon. Snow accumulation on the Delaware coast is forecast to be 4 to 6 inches.

The snow, heavy at times, combined with northeast to north winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts 30 to 40 mph will produce areas of blowing and drifting snow and near blizzard conditions could occur. Winds along the coast could gust up to 50 mph during the height of the storm and a wind advisory has been issued. The accumulating snow, strong winds and cold temperatures will cause dangerous travel conditions through Saturday night, with greatly reduced visibilities, and travel should be avoided.

A winter storm warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet or ice are expected. Strong winds are anticipated. This will make travel very hazardous or impossible.

A high-surf advisory remains in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday, and a coastal flood warning remains in effect from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Strong low pressure is forecast to pass off Cape Hatteras on Saturday morning. The low is then expected to pass to the east of Delaware and New Jersey from Saturday night into early Sunday

A northeast wind will strengthen and become gusty Saturday and continue into Saturday night. The strong onshore flow will cause tidal departures to increase. Minor tidal flooding is expected around the times of high tide this morning. At Rehoboth Beach, high tide occurs at 9:21 a.m. on Saturday, with a forecast height near 7 feet mllw. High tide on the back bays and along Delaware Bay occurs later than it does on the oceanfront. Widespread roadway flooding and some property flooding is possible in Sussex County on Saturday morning. High surf will cause widespread beach erosion.

Precautionary/preparedness actions: Do not park your vehicle in a location that is prone to tidal flooding. Do not drive through flood waters. The water may be deeper than you think it is.

A wind advisory is in effect until 7 a.m. Sunday. As the winter storm progresses northeast and passes by the Delaware and New Jersey coasts, strong gusty winds can be expected, with winds gusting to around 45 mph. At the peak of the storm Saturday evening, some winds may gusts to 50 mph on the coast. The combination of the strong winds and snowfall will make for near-blizzard conditions.

A wind advisory means that wind gusts of 45 mph are expected. Winds this strong can make driving difficult, especially for high-profile vehicles. Use extra caution.

County emergency officials urge preparation and caution

County Administrator David B. Baker, along with the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, reminded the citizens and visitors of Sussex County on Friday that they should monitor the winter weather and prepare early for winter storm conditions.

“We are currently watching a storm system that is predicted to bring a significant amount of snow to our area over the weekend. With this storm, we are also expecting gale force winds and some coastal flooding. County officials are coordinating with other agencies to prepare for the snow. The County has not seen this kind of snowfall since the President’s Day storm of 2003.

“Persons who have homes along the coast may want to check to see that all outdoor items are secure and not subject to being blown around over the next couple of days. You may also want to check to see that your boat, jet skis and gas tanks (including propane) are secure.

“With low temperatures and significant winds, the wind chill will be dangerously low. Make sure if you are out of doors that you dress appropriately. When driving use caution and allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Have provisions to protect animals and pets from the weather.

“Everyone should be prepared during winter months for bad weather and road conditions. Preparing early can help take the frustrations out of unexpected weather. We suggest you have the following items available:
• Flashlights (we do not recommend the use of candles due to the possibility of causing a fire) and fresh batteries;
• Water – stored in plastic jugs or other covered containers;
• Non-perishable provisions to last your household for three days.;
• A portable radio and fresh batteries;
• Make sure that you have any special need items available (diapers, formula, medicines, etc.) for at least three days;
• Do not call 911 for a power outage. Check your electric bill for the customer service phone number and account number.
• Check on neighbors to see that they are OK.
• In the event of snow or ice, use extreme caution on the roadways and do not use them unless necessary. Be aware that there are emergency vehicles and highway equipment on the roads during this time.
• In the event of bad weather stay tuned to your local radio and television stations for updated weather, closings and/or delays and other important information.

Power company issues safety reminders

With significant snow in the forecast for most of Delaware for later on Saturday, Delaware Electric Cooperative representatives issued a reminder that preparing for a power outage during winter storms is extremely important.

In the event of a severe storm impacting our area, customers are encouraged to follow these storm preparation recommendations to help ensure their family’s safety and comfort:
o Never touch or go near fallen wires, even if you think they are safe. Parents can use this opportunity to remind children that wires are dangerous. If you are in a vehicle that comes in contact with a downed wire, stay in your vehicle until help arrives.
o Make sure you have a working battery powered radio or TV and a good supply of
fresh replacement batteries. Also, have flashlights available for all family members.
o If an electric pump supplies your water, fill spare food?grade containers with water for cooking and washing in anticipation of a possible power interruption.
o Make sure motor driven devices such as garage door openers, can be operated
o Have a first aid kit available at home and check its contents to make sure it is complete and up to date. If family members with special medical needs, such as insulin or other prescription drugs, check to make sure you have an adequate supply.
o Keep the refrigerator door closed. Food will keep several hours in a closed
refrigerator and up to two days in a freezer. If you must open the door, be quick!
o If you have an elderly neighbor, be a Good Samaritan and check on their status. Even a quick telephone call during a storm can provide much appreciated assurance that help is nearby if needed.

“You can never be too prepared for an outage during a winter storm,” said Rob Book, spokesman for the Delaware Electric Cooperative. “However, if you have the basic essentials prepared in an outage kit, stored in an easy to locate place, this can make all the difference should they be needed,” Book continued.
Outage Kits should consist of the following items:
1. Flashlights
2. Batteries
3. First Aid Kit
4. Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils
5. Battery operated radio or TV
6. Extra blankets or sleeping bags
7. Stored water
8. Portable fire extinguisher
9. Candles and matches
10. Canned goods or easily prepared foods
11. Can opener
12. Necessary prescription drugs

Delaware Electric Cooperative consumers living in Sussex County who
experience an outage should call the emergency service line at (302) 349-9009. Delaware Electric Cooperative consumers living in Kent County who experience an outage should call 398?9009.

Beebe cancels Saturday hours for outpatient facilities, postpones movie event

With concerns of patient safety in mind as the winter storm threatens the Mid-Atlantic region, Beebe Medical Center officials announced that they had decided to cancel Saturday hours at its outpatient lab and imaging facilities in Millville and Rehoboth Beach.

The facilities, which normally offer Saturday hours, are Beebe Lab Express at the Creekside Shopping Center on Route 26 in Millville and the Beebe Lab Express and Beebe Imaging at the Beebe Health Ca.m.pus on John J. Williams Highway in Rehoboth Beach.

Outpatient lab and imaging services will continue to be available at Beebe Medical Center’s main hospital on Savannah Road in Lewes. The hospital and the Emergency Department in Lewes also continue to be open, as well as the Weekend Walk-in in Millville and the Beebe Health Center Walk-in Care at Kmart.

The precautionary measure to cancel Saturday hours ca.m.e as the National Weather Service issued a storm warning for heavy snow and windy conditions that have the potential to produce significant snowfall across the region by tomorrow.

Beebe Day at the Movies, a traditional and popular local holiday season event for more than a decade, has been rescheduled from Saturday, Dec. 19, due to the pending winter storm expected to hit Delmarva early Saturday morning.

Beebe Medical Center, which sponsors the event, was concerned about the safety of parents and children in the event of inclement weather, representatives said.

The event will now take place Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, at the Midway Movies on Route 1.
Doors will open at 9 a.m. and the movies will begin at 10 a.m.

Children will be admitted free of charge and adults pay $3. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Movie selections have not been made at this time but will be available after Jan. 10. They will be available by calling the Beebe Medical Center information line at (302) 645-3468 or by checking the Beebe Web site.

With flooding, beach erosion and other impacts from the storm expected in the area through the weekend, additional closures and event cancelations can be expected. To add to the Coastal Point’s list of cancelations and closures, or to report road closures, major flooding or damage from the storm, add a comment to this story or on our Facebook page, where you may also post your photos from the storm.