Gov. Carney offers up a snow job during Blizzard of 2018

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The blizzard of 2018. The bomb cyclone. The bombogenesis. ‘That #@$%! snow.’ Whatever you called the epic storm that roared through the southern portions of the peninsula in early January, you are probably sick of hearing about it.

However, the timeline of the storm deserves a review. Keep in mind the following chart while reading the timeline of the Blizzard, because after reviewing the facts, one can see Delaware’s response was objectively ridiculous:

Blizzard of 2018 comparative analysis: DE v. MD
Delaware Maryland
Square Mileage 1,981 12,407
Area affected by Blizzard (Sq. mi)
936
1,478
610 Somerset
400 Wicomico
468 Worcester
% of State 47.25% 11.91%
Population (2015) 944,076 5,995,000
Population affected by Blizzard (2015)
215,622
179,678
25,768 Somerset
102,370 Wicomico
51,540 Worcester
% of Population 22.84% 3.00%
Number of Announcements/Alerts/Warnings from State Emergency Management Agency 1 3
Governor’s first quote in relation to storm (T = 8:30 PM, Jan. 3rd) Jan. 4th, 2:15 PM

T +17:45

Jan. 3rd, 5:30 PM

T -3:00

State’s Emergency Management Agency first release Jan. 4th, 3:35 PM

T +19:05

Jan. 3rd, 5:30 PM

T -3:00

State Emergency Management Agency last release Jan 4th, 3:35 PM

T +19:05

Jan. 4th, 12:42 PM

T +16:12

Driving Restriction emplaced Jan. 4th 2:15 PM
Jan. 3rd 9:15 PM
Driving Restriction lifted Jan. 5th 12:00 PM
Jan. 6th 8:00 PM
Length of driving restriction (hours:minutes) 21:45 70:45

 

It began January 2nd, with the National Weather Service issuing a winter storm watch for the southern Delmarva peninsula.

3:00 AM January 3rd – The watch gets upgraded to a warning. The storm begins to be referred to as a bomb cyclone, or bombogenesis by national media, because of its potential rapid, explosive development.

10:00 AM – Delaware Emergency Management Agency issues a press release about 3 staff members going to Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

11:27 AM – National Weather Service issues Blizzard Warning for Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

12:24 PM – Delaware State Fire Marshal issues “Winter Fire Safety Tips” press release. Does not mention the impending storm, offers tips like get a professional to inspect your chimney annually.

1:40 PM – DelDOT issues press release regarding prepartions for the upcoming winter storm. Offers current snowfall estimates for the state (2 – 8 inches) as well as DelDOT’s plan of attack for the storm.

3:13 PM – NWS issues a Blizzard Warning for Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, Sussex County. Shortly afterwards, Virginia Governor declares a State of Emergency for Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

4:00 PM – Town of Georgetown declares Snow Emergency. Implementing parking restrictions, residents asked to avoid travel.

5:27 PM – Maryland Emergency Management Agency issues a press release alerting people of the storm, explaining response efforts, and plans to coordinate with county and local governments.

“As we prepare for this winter weather I urge all Marylanders to use common sense and take all necessary precautions,” says Governor Larry Hogan. “Put safety first by staying off the roads whenever possible, following your local weather forecasts, and heeding all warnings.”

6:46 PM – Delaware Health and Social Services issues a press release “In Face of Blizzard and Winter Storm Warnings, Code Purple being Declared Across Delaware to Shelter People in Need” relaying available cold shelters opening.

7:31 PM – Governor John Carney tweets: “We are monitoring the winter storm expected to impact #Delaware tonight and tomorrow. #snowDE #netDE” providing links to school and state closings websites.

Over the next hour and a half, snow begins on southern portions of the peninsula. Due to frigid temperatures of the days leading into the storm, snow begins sticking and accumulating immediately. Roads pre-treated with brine deteriorate rapidly.

9:14 PM – Maryland State Police enact snow emergency plans for Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties. Cars only allowed on roads if all four tires have snow chains or are snow tires.

10:52 PM – Sussex County announces its government offices will be closed.

11:21 PM – Gov. Larry Hogan declares a state of emergency for Eastern Shore of Maryland, saying “I urge all Lower Shore residents to stay warm, stay safe, and avoid unnecessary travel. Freezing temperatures and heavy winds mean increased danger on our roads, even after the snow has stopped falling. The state stands ready to offer any and all necessary resources to impacted counties.”

Later the next morning, MDOT Spokesman Charlie Gischler said Hogan made the right decision.

“That was a good thing to do that, because we do have some pretty seriously bad conditions out there,” said Gischler. “We’re urging people not to go out this morning, let us get out in front of the storm until it passes, and then we can make significant progress once it stops precipitating.”

11:53 PM – Gov. John Carney closes State Offices in Sussex County.

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Midnight, January 4th – 2 inches on the ground in Georgetown. Main roads barely passable due to heavy snowfall and high winds. Heaviest portion of storm begins within the hour.

Snowfall rates overnight hours in Central Sussex County:
1:40 AM – 2.7 inches
2:40 AM – 4.1 inches
3:50 AM – 5 inches

Meanwhile, at 3 AM officials in Virginia close the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel due to blizzard conditions.

4:48 AM – Governor Carney closes all state offices state wide

5:00 AM – over 5.5 inches snowfall already on ground in Sussex County.

6:05 AM – Gov. John Carney tweets snowfall updates from NWS timestamped 3:55 AM. Image shows forecasted totals 8-12 inches in Georgetown and SE Sussex between 12-18 inches.

However, around the same time, DelDOT reports no driving restrictions.

“We’re continuing to monitor conditions we just got a report from the Stockley area that they have 6.5 inches of snow already on the ground,” said DelDOT Spokesman CR McLeod. “Here we are at 10 after 6:00, that is an ominous sign to have that much snow already reported.”

7:00 AM – McCleod reports tropical storm force winds are being recorded.

“We are really seeing hazardous conditions across Sussex County. We just had a wind gust reported from our sensors at the Indian River Inlet Bridge of about 55 MPH with sustained winds of roughly 40 MPH,” said McLeod. “It is really treacherous out there. We’re encouraging folks: if they don’t have to go out, please stay off the roadways, we really have our work cut out for us.”

7:27 AM – Sussex County Emergency Operations Center fields questions on Facebook about driving restrictions: “Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Such a declaration comes from the governor’s office, in consultation with local and state emergency managers. A state conference call is planned later this morning. Stay turned [sic] for any updates.”

7:37 AM – DE Governor’s Office issues press release announcing Level I driving restriction. No quotes from Governor Carney. Reads in part: “Driving is not banned, but motorists are encouraged not to operate a motor vehicle unless there is a significant safety, health or business reason to do so.”

8:10 AM – 8 inches on the ground in Sussex. MDOT urging drivers to stay off roads.

“Down on the Lower Shore you shouldn’t even go out there unless its an absolute emergency,” said Gischler. “Right now, I’m looking live at a camera from our operations center: in Berlin, at Route 50 and US 113 you can barely see your hand in front of your face down there. So please, if you can just stay home, let us get out in front of this storm.”

9:04 AM – State senator Brian Pettyjohn posts on Facebook regarding state of emergency: He reports the governor’s office says its up to Sussex County… “A State of Emergency has not been requested by Sussex Emergency Operations. Activation of a State of Emergency would allow the activation of the Delaware National Guard, and that is not yet needed. Under legislation passed recently, the Governor can declare driving restrictions on Delaware roadways independent of issuing a State of Emergency. If higher levels of driving restrictions are needed, or if activation of the National Guard is warranted, the Governor will issue a State of Emergency, in coordination with Sussex Emergency Operations, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and DelDOT.”

Around this time, a DelDOT snowplow driver called into WGMD to express his frustration with the amount of drivers on Sussex County roads.

“Whether 4-wheel drive or not: if you don’t necessarily exactly have to go out—stay in,” said the DelDOT plow driver. “There’s too many 4-wheel drive trucks stuck. The intersection in front of Kings Highway and the high school had 10 cars stuck in it a half-hour ago.”

10:11 AM – Governor Hogan releases his public schedule for the day: stops in Ocean City, Salisbury, and Easton. Meanwhile, Governor Carney never releases a public schedule.

11:17 AM – Delaware Senate Democrats issue a press release demonizing Republican State Senators who voted against approving hazardous pay for DelDOT drivers. State Senator Pettyjohn was named in the release and said the press release omitted the context of the vote, which he says was an attempt to install a door in the firewall surrounding DelDOT project funds.

“I just think its very disingenuous for the Delaware Democratic Party and Senator Townsend to be playing this political card today when we have very dangerous conditions here in Sussex County,” said Pettyjohn who had just delivered donuts to crews at three DelDOT yards in Sussex County. “We support the crews that are out there… We want to make sure they’re fairly compensated for being out there. We just want to make sure the money is coming out of the right places in the state budget.”

11:30 AM – WGMD reaches out to Governor Carney’s office inquiring about driving restrictions, state of emergency, and if either could be anticipated due to the ongoing blizzard conditions. No response was ever received.

12:42 PM – MEMA issues 3rd press release of storm, describing in detail how 13 state agencies are responding to the storm. MEMA continues to urge Marylanders to stay off the roads even as the storm ends.

1:26 PM – By now, most of the storm had moved through the region, leaving a foot of snow across much of Sussex County and the Lower Shore of Maryland. Governor Larry Hogan arrives in Ocean City:

“It’s a pretty serious storm particularly on the Lower Shore…it’s a very deceiving storm, people say it looks not that bad it’s not that much show and the road is clear,” said Hogan. “But I want to warn people please exercise caution and stay off the roads. It’s deceiving, and it’s worse than they think.”

2:15 PM – About 18 hours after the blizzard began, Governor John Carney declares state of emergency for Sussex County and issues a level II driving ban. Along with press release, Gov. Carney provides his first quote of the storm.

“This is a serious storm, and Delawareans across Sussex County should stay off the roadways as conditions continue to worsen,” said Gov. Carney. “That will help personnel from the Delaware Department of Transportation more effectively clear the roadways, and help us provide services to our neighbors most in need.”

3:10 PM – Governor Larry Hogan arrives in Salisbury, holds a second press conference reiterating the dangerous nature of the storm, saying in part: “This is a difficult storm. We declared a State of Emergency last night on the entire Lower Shore… we’re asking people if you don’t have to go–if its not an emergency–we want you to stay off the roads.”

3:35 PM – DEMA issues first press release of storm, which ironically mentions “a limited number of DEMA personnel working with county emergency agencies.”

5:16 PM – Gov. Carney’s office issues press release concerning Trump Administration’s Offshore Drilling Plan (of which the news broke about 3 hours prior) with very responsive timing.

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January 5th – Even with driving ban in effect employers are pushing people to go to work across Sussex County. The confusion about who is “essential personnel” was apparent between what employees were being told by their bosses and the lackluster announcement from the Governor. A retail worker with a home improvement store told WGMD her managers claimed she was essential personnel because the store sells heaters and rock salt.

“I did text my boss and let him know there was still a level II driving restriction and he said, ‘well no problem, if you can’t make it in I’ll come pick you up,’” said one caller. When told they were risking serious accident or injury if he drove or rode in a vehicle, the caller said “Yeah well, like everyone else I need a job…I’m sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m just letting you know there are some people who feel that.”

Meanwhile MDOT was still warning people to stay off the roads.

“We’re still trying to tell people if you don’t have to go out, please stay inside. Conditions are still going to be rough out there; today’s could be even worse—I would argue—than yesterday,” said Gischler. “Yesterday everybody was definitely staying inside. Today they might start to venture out a little bit, get cabin fever…and if you’re driving down the street and there’s a road that’s open and it’s down to bare pavement, then all of a sudden you come across an area that just totally drifted over, that becomes dangerous.”

11:10 AM – Governor Carney announces (and highlights) that driving restrictions will be lifted at noon in Sussex County.

CR Mcleod says the slow reaction to issue a driving restriction was a failure.

“You know I think in terms of what we could do better… its safe to say we’ll be talking about when the driving restrictions were put into place. We want to make sure we’re keeping people safe and keeping people off the roadways,” said McLeod. “From the number of abandoned vehicles we saw out across the county, a lot of people were still thinking they could get out and the roads would be navigable. So in the future we will definitely be looking at how we can make sure we get that message out: ‘Hey, these are not conditions you want to get out and drive in.’”

DelDOT crews eventually uncover over 300 abandoned cars across Sussex County, which does not include the uncounted number of cars that had to be assisted throughout the blizzard or towed by other companies and agencies.

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Jan. 6th, 8:00 PM – Maryland State Police lift the Snow Emergency Plan for the Lower Shore; driving allowed for regular civilians.

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A side-by-side comparison of the response from both states is unbelievable. Even though the blizzard affected a significantly smaller proportion of the state’s geography and population, Maryland provided volumes of information about the storm, its impact, and ongoing state response; meanwhile, there was nary a peep from Delaware while the storm battered half the state, with a quarter of its residents.

Governor Carney did tweet about the storm minimally, but he only has a paltry 18,900 followers. Therefore, even if every follower was a Sussex County resident, his warnings would only reach 8% of the population in the county.

Maryland set driving restrictions 18 hours earlier than Delaware, and held them in place 30 hours later.

In the middle of the blizzard, WGMD had to reach out to Gov. Carney’s office for information and guidance (and received none). Whereas such a request was never needed from Gov. Hogan’s administration, since it had been and was continuing to consistently provide press releases, soundbytes, and updates.

Citizens of a state should reasonably expect information, updates, and responsiveness from their governor and/or state agencies during a natural disaster– independent of the political affiliation and population size of the affected geographic area. Many people say this is the way it has always been, with Sussex County playing the part of the forgotten son. While that may be true, it is hardly a valid excuse.

The blizzard brings to light many issues currently being debated within not only Sussex County but also Delaware as a whole, and leaves questions that need to be answered.

1) Where is the leadership? Who is in charge? The governor said he was waiting on Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, who in turn said they were waiting on the governor. The lack of information before, during, and after storm from a state and county level at the very least embarassing and at most negligent.

2) What is an emergency? If snowfall rates over 1 inch an hour with tropical storm force winds creating white-out conditions doesnt warrant driving restrictions what does?

3) The administration of Governor John Carney gets caught flat-footed in a real-time emergency/crisis scenario for the second time in 2 years. Although not as deadly nor disturbing as the Vaughn Correctional Center prison riot, this storm certainly endangered more people, largely due to inaction by the governor.

4) Questions about the Delaware General Assembly’s ability to forge bi-partisan relationships during this upcoming session.  In October of last year, Governor Carney said one of the reasons he did not enjoy serving in the U.S. House of Representatives was because there was too much partisanship. He went on to say he feared partisanship was creeping into the Delaware State House as well, but hoped the “Delaware Way” would resume during the current session. However, certain actions during the storm belie that notion, such as the Delaware Democrats issuing a press release looking for a political hit on Republicans during the storm, or Gov. Carney’s office putting out a press release in response to a national headline with more deftness than responding to the ongoing natural disaster within its borders.

5) The crux of the recent right-to-work ordinance in Sussex County hinged on the scope of the county’s right to home rule. The blizzard raises the same question Councilman Rob Arlett brought to the forefront of the conversation: in the absence of adequate state leadership, should Sussex County seek to consolidate as much authority and responsibility as possible to lead and protect its citizens and residents, or leave it up to a seemingly uninterested state government?

6) Another part of the right-to-work debate centered around the question: who is looking out for the worker? When facing a blizzard of epic proportions, the state sided with unreasonable business  interests (i.e. employers asking workers to come in during a blizzard) over the most vulnerable, unprotected workers in the state (i.e. the people who need the Governor to issue a Level II driving restriction to be able to call out from work without fear of repercussion).

7) How fragile is Delaware’s economy if the governor is more worried about 2 days of lost business in Sussex County– in the off-season and during a blizzard– than he is about the safety of his constituents?