LP Gas

Propane retailers weather fluke onslaughts of snow from Winter Storm Jonas

Photo: rabiem22 / photo on flickr

With more than 80 million people in its path last weekend, from the Gulf Coast to New England, Winter Storm Jonas was fortunately a fast-moving front.

Another plus was that Jonas came through on a weekend, allowing the populace to shelter in place – presumably burning increased propane loads as numerous areas that seldom see much snowfall experienced record-setting amounts.

Travel logistics quickly became major challenges, especially in communities lacking adequate snowplow fleets common to regions accustomed to dealing with wintery conditions.

“People were looking out their windows and seeing snow piles they’ve never seen before,” reported meteorologist Bill Karins, who was on the MSNBC airwaves throughout the duration.

A lot of areas had more snow falling in a single weekend than they get in an entire year; five states had snowfalls in excess of 30 inches.

Glengary, W.Va., was blasted by 42 inches of snow; 40.5 inches fell on Shepherdstown, W.Va.; and Tunnelton, W.Va., was buried under 34 inches.

“Winter Storm Jonas is an anomaly as far as West Virginia is concerned. Storms with this kind of accumulation in such a short period of time are rare,” says Tom Osina, executive director of the West Virginia Propane Gas Association (WVPGA).

With plenty of advance warning about Jonas, state marketers were able to bring in adequate supplies beforehand and make fills among their customers before the snow started early Friday morning, Osina says.

“It was not until the storm had passed on Sunday that marketers started getting back into action,” he adds. “We had to wait for WVDOT to get plows on the road to start clearing. By Monday evening, the interstates were passable and the major secondary roads had at least one lane open.”

WVPGA obtained an hours-of-service waiver for drivers starting Jan. 21 through the weekend, and it received an extension to midnight Jan. 29 because many residential and mountain roads to customers were still blocked.

“The good news is that most marketers had their employees on the job using four-wheel drives, plowing company lots and loading areas as soon as conditions were reasonable,” Osina says.

Because of the severe weather and product shortages during the winter of 2013-14 and the subsequent “lessons-learned seminars” conducted by the WVPGA two years ago, “marketers were both aware and prepared to handle Winter Storm Jonas,” he says.

‘A very big deal’

Emergency authorities and state governors dressed in on-the-job jumpsuits continually urged everyone to stay home and off the roads as Jonas approached, yet more than a few motorists ventured out anyway, staffing everything from the hospital downtown to the diner down the street.

No matter how well intentioned they were, a lot of folks never reached their destination. One to 3 inches of snow fell per hour in New York City, covering Long Island with 19 inches by lunchtime Saturday. The Long Island Railroad uses propane heaters to keep its switches operational, but the onslaught was just too much to keep the trains moving. Bus routes and bridges were closed, as well.

“This is a very big deal. People have to take seriously what is going on,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing 6,000 miles of streets in the Big Apple that needed to be plowed.

Stranded vehicles, as well as a lack of space in the city to pile snow from the plows, further aggravated the situation.

“If you have taken your car out for any reason, turn around and go home now!” de Blasio warned. “There are whiteout conditions.”

Problems also existed in other states around the region. Drivers along Interstate 75 in Kentucky found themselves marooned for up to 24 hours.

Measuring 29.2 inches, Baltimore tallied its biggest snowfall ever. Portions of Virginia got hit with 39 inches, and by mid-morning Saturday there had been nearly 900 car wrecks throughout the state. By noon Saturday, Winchester, Va., was buried under 30 inches, forcing Quarles Energy Services to temporarily pull its bobtails off the road.

The company’s website advised its customers that “all delivery trucks will remain out of service until blizzard conditions are no longer present in the service area and the roads become passable.”

Floodwaters engulfed the Jersey Shore, and in Ocean City, Md., surging tides driven by hurricane-force winds resulted in icebergs floating amid picket fences.

In the nation’s capital

By 2:30 a.m. Sunday, 30-plus inches of snow covered Washington, D.C. – bringing to mind a comment attributed to John F. Kennedy, who joked that “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”

“This is not exactly Buffalo, N.Y., when it comes to snow removal,” mused MSNBC correspondent Luke Russert on Saturday.

Stationed near the U.S. Capitol, he appeared to be standing in front of a white sheet backdrop as the flakes flew. Son of the late Tim Russert, longtime host of “Meet the Press” and noted rabid fan of his hometown Buffalo Bills, Luke himself grew up living in D.C. During pauses in describing the seriousness of the storm, he made several wry comments on the district’s inability to handle anything more than a dusting.

Prior to Jonas’ arrival, a scant few inches on the roads had President Obama’s motorcade slipping and sliding during a short drive from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House. A routine 20-minute journey escalated into an hour-long adventure.

Serving accounts in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where a massive backup shuttered portions of the venerable Pennsylvania Turnpike, Tevis Propane was among numerous marketers asking customers to render some assistance during the storm.

“If you have a delivery scheduled, please be sure your driveway is cleared at least 10 feet for our truck, clear a footpath to your fill location and mark your fill as needed,” the company posted on its website. “The footpath does not need to be perfect, just reasonable for our driver to safely access your fill location.

“If you believe you are in need of an immediate propane delivery, before you call, please check your gauge to determine how much propane you have,” according to the website. “This information will help us schedule your delivery more accurately.”