By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Winter Storm Jonas certainly left its mark in West Virginia this past weekend with accumulations varying anywhere from 8 – 40 inches throughout different regions of the state. The governor’s office issued “state of emergency” warnings well prior to the storm’s arrival, and most people seemed to heed the warning.
Press releases were received at The News & Journal from power companies, telephone providers, and area communities saying they were prepared for what was to come.
DOH road crews as well as local road crews were diligent in attacking the onslaught of snow that arrived; however, the most common comment was that its quick arrival was hard to keep up with!
Shinnston’s Interim City Manager Debra Herndon noted that the city’s Public Works Department had worked two crews of 12-hour shifts throughout the weekend.
“Our first priority was to clear main arteries, and smaller streets and alleys had to wait until Monday. However, we had several problems with equipment being overstressed and failing, and we lost a set of chains that couldn’t be repaired until the first of the week. Add to that the fact that the snowfall was so steady and ongoing … it was not an easy matter to stay ahead of it,” she said.
Another problem occurred when the City’s S250 truck snapped a ball joint and tore the universal out on Monday. Mrs. Herndon said that because of these problems, Public Works met with a contractor on Monday to engage them to help with clearing snow in some of the smaller areas.
“We have had calls on Monday from a number of people who live on an alley and could not get out,” she added. “We ask their patience while we work towards opening all of these areas. We also had a water line break – just one, thank goodness – but it meant halting plowing on Sunday to fix that break. It is a major job to clear this amount of snow, but we are doing as well as any community of our size to get our roads passable and keep our community safe.”
Downtown snow was loaded into dump trucks on Monday afternoon to try to clear parking spaces in the downtown area and to keep drainage outlets open.
“As snow melts, if there is no place for it to drain, it will freeze on the roads and the situation will only get worse. Downtown sidewalks will also be taken care of as time permits,” Herndon concluded. “Typically, we have an ATV equipped with a blade that works on keeping sidewalks clear, but at least at the beginning of the week, it could not handle this volume of snow.”
Ray Urse, District Manager of District 4 of the Department of Transportation, said early in the week that four-lane highways and primary roads in Harrison County were in pretty good condition. However, he was still encouraging people to stay off the roads.
“We ask residents to remain tolerant while we work at this,” Urse stated. “We treat the roads on a priority basis and we ask that folks give us the opportunity to do that. We try to make an initial pass-through on secondary roads, but they will be narrow; we’ll be widening those and removing snow by truckloads as time permits, but progress may be slow in some areas.”
Due to the depth of the snow, DOH is requesting graders and operators to help them keep secondary and less traveled roads open to traffic.
“We worked on Monday to clear bridge drains and roadside inlets because we are expecting temperatures to warm and snow will thaw and then freeze, so it is important to keep these drains open,” Urse added. “We also continue to coordinate with county EMS directors. We need their help in verifying legitimate medical emergencies, and while we lend our support in these situations, it also takes our crews away from the task at hand.”
Power outages in Harrison County were very minimal during the snowstorm; however, the county maintenance facility at Gore was without power on Monday and working hard to resolve that problem as well.
Harrison County accumulation totals averaged around the two-foot mark, not quite as much as the record amounts dumped on the area in 1994’s storm. The big difference, according to officials, was that the’94 snowfall accumulated over a three-day period, thus giving crews time to persist with removal. Jonas, on the other hand, left its mark in just a 24-hour period, making it even harder to see much progress being made.
Three warming stations were set up locally – the Spelter Volunteer Fire Department, the Boothsville Volunteer Fire Department, and Shinnston’s First United Methodist Church – but with so few power issues, these stations did not receive calls for help.
It was a blessing that area residents prepared early to be snowbound and that they heeded warnings to stay home and off area roadways. But Jonas will no doubt be remembered for delivering a substantial reminder of what Old Man Winter can bring! With school closings, university closings, stores working with very limited staff, and many business closures, January 2016’s Jonas got our attention!
Reports from other areas of West Virginia …. Snowfall in the Martinsburg area surpassed original forecasts and left more than 40 inches of snow by Sunday! … The Parkersburg area reported 11 inches as of Saturday morning with only a few minor accidents. … Charleston reported 18.6 inches of snow, just short of a record set in 1993. 129 customers were without power. … The Morgantown area received up to 26 inches of snow, no reported utility outages, but warming shelters on standby in case the need arose. … Huntington received a half inch of snow per hour during the storm’s initial blast between Friday morning through Saturday morning. … There were no major accidents in the Upper Ohio Valley area, and snow reports in Ohio County were around a foot while Marshall County reported up to 20 inches. …Beckley crews worked round the clock to clear at least a foot of snow from its 100+ miles of streets.