Brutal, life-threatening cold descended over the East and the South early last week, sending single digit temperatures from New York and Washington to Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham – where many people have little experience dealing with freezing weather. In fact, the Midwest and the East were colder than much of Antarctica.
In Pocahontas County the power was knocked out early Tuesday morning at 3 a.m. severing service to more than 3,200 Mon Power customers. The inclement weather affected a large portion of Pocahontas County including Edray, Marlinton, Huntersville, Frost, Dunmore and part of Buckeye. Temperatures had dropped to 21 degrees below zero in parts of Pocahontas County by early Tuesday morning. With wind chills that neared 40 degrees below zero, it was one of the coldest nights in that rural area in several years.
Electricity demand had spiked across central and eastern states hit by severe cold, and power grid authorities were asking people to conserve energy when possible. Power outages occurred as temperatures dropped below zero.
Progress on power outages were reported throughout West Virginia through the day Tuesday as crews worked in bitter temperatures with most customers of Mon Power, Potomac Edison and Appalachian Power to have power by Tuesday night.
By Tuesday evening power was fully restored in Pocahontas County. Officials with Mon Power said power to 2,500 homes and businesses in the Marlinton area had been restored as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. The remaining outages were fixed by 6 p.m. To aid those without power, Warming Stations were opened at the Marlinton Municipal Building and NRAO in Green Bank.
Todd Meyers, spokesperson for Mon Power, said they understood the importance of getting those customers back on line as quickly as possible.
Crews walked the line first thing Tuesday morning, but couldn’t immediately find the problem. Cold temperatures and gusty winds hampered efforts to locate the source of the power problem. It was narrowed down to a stretch of line near Thorny Creek, about three miles northeast of Marlinton. Around noon Tuesday, the winds finally died down enough to use a helicopter to fly over the line to try and locate the disruption. What exactly caused the outage was still not immediately clear.
Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the “polar vortex” by the time it spread across the country. In the East, a blizzard smothered western New York with up to 18 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 50 mph. As much as three feet of snow was expected by the time the storm eased on Wednesday.
West Virginia was also caught in the grip of frigid cold that broke records in several parts of the state. Wind chill values ranged from -15 to -30. Frostbite can occur in these conditions in only ten minutes. All 55 county public school systems cancelled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures in parts of West Virginia hit lows not seen for 25 years. Residents in many areas woke up to below-zero temperatures on Tuesday. Shortly before 6 a.m., Beckley, Elkins and Lewisburg all reported minus 8 degrees.
With all of that behind us now, warmer weather – at least, near or above freezing – has returned for much of the eastern half of the U.S. The warming trend will continue through the rest of the week and by the weekend we’ll be looking at highs of near 50. Showers are likely on Saturday, and possibly again on Sunday or Monday, but the big story is the warm-up and relief from the cold.