Snow plows were out in parts of the southern Appalachian mountains Monday, beginning what could be a long week removing as much as 3 feet of snow in higher elevations spawned by Hurricane Sandy.
The early snowfall could be a boon for the area’s ski resorts, which have sometimes struggled to keep their slopes open with a warming climate.
Forecasters in West Virginia expanded a blizzard warning to at least 14 counties for high winds and heavy, wet snow. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency.
“We’re not taking it lightly,” Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Gene Tracy said. “We’re preparing for the worst — power outages — and getting ready to cut trees if they block the roads.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Axford said the overwhelming majority of residents live in lower elevations where significantly less snow was expected. No significant power outages were reported Monday, although utility and state officials warned they were possible.
Highway crews embarked on snow-removal efforts in several areas, including along Interstates 64 and 77 in West Virginia. Schools were closed in at least 11 counties.
People at the Shop ’n Save supermarket in Terra Alta picked up bread, milk and cat food, but all laughed off the dire predictions they saw on TV, where forecasters didn’t differentiate elevations.
Terra Alta sits at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. Morgantown, about 40 miles northwest of Terra Alta, sits below 1,000 feet.
Judy Sines, restocking shelves as a few last-minute shoppers trickled in, has lived on the mountaintop for more than 30 years.
“This is what it’s like most winters,” she said. “It comes like this all the time. All we can do is get prepared and hope for the best.”
Lifelong resident Deane Foy wasn’t worried.
“It’s a lot of hype,” she said. “My husband did put the plow on, in case we have to get out of the driveway. We have a generator, so this is life as usual for us.”
Farther south in Boone, N.C., as much as a foot of snow was expected at higher elevations as the temperature hovered just below freezing.
Watauga County Emergency Management Director Steve Sudderth said wet, heavy snow began falling early Monday morning but the ground was warm enough to keep it from sticking to roads. Sudderth said the snow was primarily accumulating at elevations above 4,000 feet and that local residents were very used to dealing with such weather. Boone averages nearly 3 feet of snowfall each winter.
No power outages were reported and county students went to school on time.
Sugar Mountain spokeswoman Kim Jochl said Monday the ski resort had already received a couple inches of natural snow and that snow makers had been running since Sunday night.
The resort plans to open Wednesday for Halloween, the earliest Sugar has ever been able to open in 43 years of operation. Jochl said the earliest opening date previously was Nov. 6, 1976.
“It’s unprecedented,” she said.
Jeremy Heidt with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said officials in the eastern part of the state were preparing for downed trees blocking roads, with ice and wet snow creating hazardous conditions for motorists.
Dana Soehn, spokeswoman with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said about 6.5 inches fell at the highest elevations overnight. Wind gusts of 32 miles an hour were reported at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
“Our biggest concern is folks who are hiking the Appalachian Trail,” she said.
Park officials posted winter weather advisories at spots along the trail where AT hikers are required to get registered. She said there have been several cancellations and 50 registered overnight backpackers planned to spend the night at shelters.