CHARLESTON (AP) - West Virginians are bracing for strong winds, heavy snow and possible flooding and power outages as Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast and heads inland.
This week's freak storm - a combination of Hurricane Sandy, a cold front from the west and high pressure from the north - brings a variety of concerns, depending on the location.
"This is one of the most interesting storms I've ever seen," Barb Miller, emergency services director in Jefferson, the state's easternmost county, said Sunday. "Even this morning, they still can't say exactly where it's going to hit."
A winter storm watch was posted in 14 southeastern and eastern counties.
Snow was forecast to start falling Sunday night and continue through Wednesday morning from McDowell County northeast to Preston County. As much as 2 feet of snow is possible on the highest ridge tops, including near ski resorts, while up to 6 inches are likely in other areas, the National Weather Service said.
Other areas will see a mix of rain and snow, especially tonight and Tuesday.
Wind gusts up to 60 mph are likely today and Tuesday in Berkeley, Hampshire, Grant, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan and Pendleton counties. Combined with heavy rains, that could lead to significant tree damage, the weather service said.
Flooding also is possible in both panhandles and portions of northern West Virginia.
T.D. Lively of the state Division of Homeland Security said the American Red Cross has placed several of its shelters on standby, adding that "typically West Virginia doesn't have a large need for sheltering because people tend to stay with family."
Power company crews were being mobilized to deal with potential outages.
Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said Sunday that in addition to putting its own workers on notice, more than 350 crews have been secured from others companies within in the system of parent American Electric Power, which serves nearly 440,000 customers in 24 West Virginia counties.
"The weather pattern certainly looks like it could impact our service territory and cause power outages," Moye said. "If the weather continues to develop in a way that we could have major power outages, then we'll request more (help)."
West Virginia already has had a busy year dealing with weather-related emergencies. The June 29 derecho left more than 680,000 state customers without electricity, many for up to two weeks.
Miller said residents are being told to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best. With an event this size, the power company is going to be so tied up and they're not going to be able to get to everybody at the same time. So they need to be as ready as they can."
Airlines canceled 19 flights heading in and out of Charleston's Yeager Airport today due to the storm.