New Castle County officials monitored forecasts Thursday as they prepared for the winter’s first serious snowstorm, encouraging residents to get ready and stay safe once snow begins.
The National Weather Service updated its forecasts early Thursday, predicting a slight chance of snow after 4 p.m. Friday in New Castle County, with heavy snow starting after 10 p.m., continuing through Saturday night or Sunday morning – accumulating up to 18 inches, with less in Kent and Sussex counties. Other widely varying forecasts call for up to 30 inches in northern Delaware.
“We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” County Executive Thomas P. Gordon said, adding revised forecasts showing a later arrival time for the storm’s worst – first estimated to be during Friday rush hour -- are lucky in terms of public safety.
“We urge residents to get ready and spend the weekend at home for their own safety,” Gordon said, noting the Federal Emergency Management Agency says about 70 percent of snow- and ice-related injuries occur in vehicle crashes, about 25 percent happen to people out in storms and other causes make up the remaining 5 percent.
“In addition to preparing for yourself for the storm,” Gordon said, “please check on neighbors and loved ones who may need some help, especially the elderly, sick or infirm and those who live with disabilities.”
Thursday was the second day for county crews checking and preparing vehicles from plows to police cars for storm-readiness, Gordon said. Arrangements also were being made for essential personnel – including police, paramedics, emergency preparation and emergency communications staff, as well as special services employees – who might be needed for added duty, Gordon said.
“Our primary responsibility when a storm hits is public safety,” said J. Wayne Merritt, acting general manager of the county’s Department of Special Services. Personnel in that department were checking various trucks, plows and gear used to help keep emergency services rolling, he said.
Such storm duty typically includes employees arriving prepared to spend a night or more, said Commander Lawrence E. Tan of the Division of Emergency Medical Services, which includes paramedics.
The division was working with fleet services in Special Services to release vehicles sidelined for routine maintenance to ensure a full complement, Tan said. Most vehicles already were upgraded to four-wheel drive capacity to minimize potential travel issues, he added.
Emergency vehicles’ gas tanks also were being filled, he said. Experts recommend that precaution for citizens because conditions may close gas stations or make them hard to reach, power outages may shut down pumps and full tanks are less likely to have ice form in gas lines.
New Castle County Police Department was readying its four-wheel drive vehicles for snow duty, said Cpl. Tom Jackson, public information officer. “We’ll have more available if we need them,” Jackson said.
Police and other emergency personnel urge residents to equip vehicles with snow survival supplies – such as food, water, warm clothes, blankets, flashlights, batteries, shovel, ice scraper, first aid kit and windshield fluid – but to avoid needing such gear. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Jackson said.
Residents also should watch for any state of emergency Gov. Jack Markell announce and comply with their conditions, said Assistant Chief Donald Holden in the county Division of Emergency Communications. Staff has been added through the storm’s expected span to handle the possibility of additional calls, Holden said, but the safest thing for residents to do is stay home.
When vehicles crash or get stuck in snowstorms, Tan noted, they endanger occupants, interfere with plowing/salting and create hazards for police, fire and medical personnel responding to emergency calls.
Anyone who needs help during the storm, however, should call 911 right away, Tan said. “Don’t wait, because it may take us longer to get places because of road conditions,” he said.
If necessary, Tan added, “we may add additional medic units so we can still effect a timely response.”
The county also may get help from the state Department of Transportation and fire companies if conditions worsen so much that emergency personnel need their assistance to reach their destinations. “Sometimes we have trouble getting into neighborhoods,” Merritt said.
The county Office of Emergency Management advises residents to create 72-hour family preparedness kits, according to Coordinator David Carpenter Jr. He says recommended items include flashlights and batteries, blankets and pillows, extra clothes, canned and other nonperishable foods, a manual can opener, medications and sanitary items, first aid kit, dishes and silverware, plastic bags, games for children, important documents and three gallons of water per person. Kits also should include needed baby or pet items.
Home preparation for power outages includes checking generators – run only outdoors to avoid potentially lethal carbon monoxide – and other alternative heating, such as ensuring no flammable materials are near fireplaces.
Tan said the best snowstorm tip he can offer is simple, but important.
“If you have a history of medical problems, don’t shovel the snow,” Tan said. “Pay a kid to do it.”
Especially for people with asthma, emphysema, angina or past heart issues, he said, “the combination of extreme cold weather and the physical exertion of removing snow can cause heart attacks.”