CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Snow plows were out in parts of the southern Appalachian mountains Monday, preparing for as much as 3 feet of snow in higher elevations spawned by the merger of a winter storm with 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.
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, W.Va., picked up bread, milk and cat food, but all laughed off the dire predictions they saw on TV, where forecasters didn’t differentiate elevations.
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. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue expanded her earlier emergency declaration to include 24 mountain counties.
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. Most of it was accumulating above 4,000 feet. 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 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.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, about 6.5 inches fell overnight at the highest elevations, spokeswoman Dana Soehn said. 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.
In Kentucky, transportation crews were preparing their equipment to clear snow.
“The temperatures are still fairly warm, so we will not be pre-treating,” said Miranda Thacker, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “We will begin plowing when the snow starts to fall.”
A forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Ky., said only two measurable snowfalls have been recorded in October there since the office opened in 1981: 2.3 inches on Halloween 1993, and 0.5 inches on Oct. 20, 1989.
In the mountain counties of Virginia, residents rushed to hardware and grocery stores to stock up.
In Damascus, Va., Corinne Cole was buying a kerosene heater in case the power went out, plus a 5-gallon fuel container and a candle.
“I’m ready. Got lots of food, alcohol and party supplies. And cat food for the cat,” she said. “It’s just a reason to have a party.”
Biesecker reported from Raleigh, N.C. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn.; Vicki Smith in Terra Alta, W.Va.; and Lawrence Messina in Charleston, W.Va.