HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Preparedness for the epic winter storm expected to hit New Jersey Wednesday was discussed at the final Hunterdon County government meeting of 2020, less than 24 hours before the state was expected to see initial blasts of snow.
Hunterdon County’s Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Brayden Fahey phoned in to the Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting Dec. 15, and said he and his OEM colleagues have been in communication with the National Weather Service’s Mt. Holly Forecast Office, receiving updates on Winter Storm Gail’s trajectory and potential impacts since Dec. 11. Conference calls have taken place with both the NWS and the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management for the most up-to-date information and analysis of the storm’s path, as well as to ensure statewide preparedness, emergency management and response efforts between county and state agencies for this expected winter weather event.
Updates have also been relayed to municipalities’ administrative offices as well as first responders at the local levels across the 26 Hunterdon County municipalities, plus municipal OEM divisions, school administrators and other organizations.
Fahey said the snow is expected to develop steadily during daylight hours on Wednesday afternoon and then accumulate to a total of between 12 and 20 inches in northern and western New Jersey, tapering off by Thursday afternoon. He noted the potential hazardous situations that will be created Wednesday with wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour or more accompanying the snowfall.
“Beginning Wednesday afternoon, the snow is expected to become heavy and stick,” he said. “The snowfall would impact the Thursday morning commute as the storm is not expected to taper off until Thursday afternoon hours. The National Weather Services advises that travel within the county could be extremely difficult or even impossible.”
One major consideration for Hunterdon County OEM and officials statewide, with potential for dangerous roadway conditions, is the Jugtown Mountain section of Interstate 78, what Fahey called “a known problem spot during severe winter storms.” Additionally, power outages are possible due to the combination of heavy snow with strong winds. “We are urging the public to ensure they are prepared now,” he said.
If a State of Emergency is declared in New Jersey due to the winter storm, it may not necessarily restrict travel, Fahey noted. He has overseen communications between OEM and the Hunterdon County Department of Public Safety, as well as the Department of Human Services, specifically its Transportation Division to monitor activities and ridership on the LINK bus transit system.
The last LINK bus boarding time on Wednesday was slated for noon so that the vehicles (and the residents occupying them, as well as drivers) can safely leave area roadways for the duration of the snowstorm. Information and updates on LINK bus operations will be available on the website, RidetheLink,com, and related social media accounts.
In addition to the snowfall in the forecast for Hunterdon County and most of the state and Northeast U.S. region between Philadelphia and Boston, Fahey updated county officials on the Code Blue declaration going into effect until at least Thursday afternoon. Code Blue nights are able to be declared when temperatures outside drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. New state legislation requires counties or municipalities to pay for shelters for homeless populations during Code Blue events.
Throughout the duration of this week’s snowstorm, county OEM coordinated with the Hunterdon County Department of Human Services and the county-contracted nonprofit organization Hunterdon Helpline to keep Hunterdon County warming centers open “throughout the duration of this event,” Fahey said. This Code Blue declaration is guaranteed to last until, at the very earliest, mid-day on Thursday.
To address aiding the county’s local municipalities with their budget constraints, in September, Hunterdon County’s governing body authorized Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren to execute a provider services contract with Hunterdon Helpline for the provision of a Code Blue Warming Center for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. The funding amount for the one-year period is $29,640.
Additional funding for an excess of 80 Code Blue nights is conditioned upon funding availability and level of service achievement, per the resolution approved in September.
Fahey noted that 911 usage should be reserved for only “true emergency situations,” and residents of Hunterdon County, if they are seeking assistance with locating shelter or any other needs before, during and after the storm should not call 911. They can call Hunterdon Helpline instead, at 908-782-4357 or check out www.helplinehc.org for more information.
Of note, as part of their Dec. 15 meeting agenda, the freeholder board approved a $162,800 grant with state funding from the New Jersey Department of Human Services Division of Family Development, of which $50,000 was included for Code Blue program provisions, specifically for the period of Jan. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021. The grant’s remaining $112,800 was allocated to the county to assist families and individuals at risk of homelessness and those who are ineligible for Work First New Jersey (TANF, SSI or GA) Emergency Assistance with the costs of shelter, rent and utilities.
Fahey also announced that word came in from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) that Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has requested mutual aid assistance from utility crews in Ohio in order to coordinate snowstorm response in New Jersey.
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