There are going to be some unique features to the winter storm predicted to hit our county this evening and local officials are both preparing for unusual conditions and warning residents to prepare themselves.
First, there is the duration of the storm -- more than 48 hours of steady snowfall, about four inches every two hours. Second, there is the direction of the wind, coming from the north at the start of the storm rather than the usual west-southwest winds.
There is a winter storm watch in effect from tonight through 8 p.m. Wednesday with anticipated stiff winds and storm totals for snowfall of up to 20 inches in some parts of the county.
The winds won't be strong, but blowing in from the north changes the dynamic of the storm.
'It's going to be an almost three-day storm," said Tim Yaeger, emergency management coordinator. "I think highway crews are going to be able to keep up with it easily enough. The wind may cause a problem with visibility. Just the sheer temperatures will be difficult to deal with itself."
Yaeger said people need to be prepared for the idea that the storm will last for a while and travel conditions will naturally slow down emergency responses if there is a problem.
"The mantra that we always carry with emergency services is to be ready for 72 hours," Yaeger said. "Obviously, the past week proved that everyone needs to be prepared."
County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said he's already reminded his crews that the wind is going to be coming from the north.
"The lake effect will enhance the snowfall rates for the nor'easter, but the odd thing is for the highway department is it affects roads different for us than we’re used to," Hens said. "Normally, we get west to southwest winds, so the north to south roads, you get a lot of blowing and drifting. We’ve had it before, so the guys are used to it, but it is a little bit different. You’ll have the east and west roads that are getting the whiteouts and the drifting."
Hens noted that snow fences along roadways are set up on north-south roads, not east-west, so blowing and drifting snow could be worse than a typical storm.
"Take a little time to think about where you’re going and realize that you’re going to get whiteouts on roads you don’t normally get whiteouts on," Hens said.
Sheriff William Sheron said drivers need to allow themselves enough time to get where they're going.
"Be prepared for slippery roads and whiteout conditions," Sheron said. "Reduce speeds and allow extra stopping distance."
Driver safety was also on the mind of Yaeger and Hens.
"If you don’t have to drive, delay that trip, delay that shopping trip if you can," Yaeger said. "Stay off the roads. Stay home. Stay safe. Stay warm."
It's been a light winter, Hens noted, so there hasn't been much demand on drivers this year to practice their snow-and-ice driving skills.
"People have probably gotten a little bit lazy in terms of winter driving skills, so just a reminder to give yourself extra time, give yourself a lot of room, respect the snowplows, try not to get up behind them too close and pass them," Hens said.
It's hard to say if we'll have power outages. The winds will not be that strong, but they are coming just days after a heavy windstorm that may have weakened some root systems or moorings for utility pools, but more importantly, the winds are coming from the north and tree root systems are set up to handle west-southwest winds.
Yaeger expressed a little concern, but Hens said he isn't anticipating an issue unless the winds come on stronger than expected.
"I think most of the trees are pretty good at handling 30 to 35 mph winds," Hens said. "It’s just if we get a repeat of what we had last Wednesdayy and Thursday, it will be a whole other story."
In anticipation of higher call volume, there are already extra dispatchers scheduled for the storm period, Sheron said. Extra patrols will be called in if needed.
The prolonged storm won't be too much of a stress on his road crews, Hens said, but it might be harder on town highway departments.
"We have enough people that we can run two shifts of drivers, but the towns (have) three- to four-men departments, so they run as long as they can run," Hens said. "They’ve got to take a break and sleep at some point. It affects them more when you get a long duration storm. It beats them up pretty good, but they fight through it and make it work most of the time."
Yeager said he's confident all of the men and women trained to handle emergencies in the county are ready for what's coming. They proved that Wednesday and Thursday, he said.
"Our hats from our office go off to those folks, the guys and girls of all the emergency services, from the dispatchers to law enforcement out there working hand-in-hand, from the career guys to the volunteers," Yaeger said. "They put their foot forward and I don’t think there was any time that we were worried that something wasn’t going to be addressed, whether it be a fire, to the lines down and arcing, to motor-vehicle accidents. They came out and did their jobs."