The massive weather system dubbed Winter Storm Saturn that made its way from the Midwest arrived in Delaware in impressive fashion Wednesday morning as the storm closed down Prime Hook Road in coastal Sussex County, as well as part of Del. Route 1 in the beach resort area, due to flooding.
The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J. had issued a winter storm warning for the Tri-State area and a coastal flood warning for Kent and Sussex counties early Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service also issued a high wind warning for inland Sussex County by Wednesday afternoon.
By mid-morning, the storm's high winds and heavy rains were making their effect known to motorists up and down the state.
Delaware Department of Transportation officials advised Prime Hook residents on Tuesday night to evacuate their homes by 11 a.m. Wednesday and blocked off access to Prime Hook Road. By 1 p.m., Prime Hook Road near the beach was covered with water and looked like an extension of the Delaware Bay as small waves ran across the road and the wind blew salt water into the air. There were no cars on Prime Hook Beach road other than a few DelDOT and media vehicles.
Prime Hook Road had always been a low-lying road but its vulnerability to flooding had been exacerbated in recent years because of considerable damage caused by the onslaught of both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, DelDOT Director of Public Affairs Geoff Sundstrom said.
As a result, DelDOT opened North Bayshore Drive in an adjacent private, gated community as an alternate access road for residents of Prime Hook, Sundstrom said. DelDOT negotiated with a local property owner, Sam Burke, in order to set up that access as it had in the past, he said.
However, this emergency alternate access route was also known to flood in the past during major storms and would only be a stopgap measure, Sundstrom said.
DelDOT spokesman Jim Westhoff said Prime Hook residents were advised that they would be isolated from the mainland throughout the storm and possibly be cut off from emergency assistance until flood waters receded.
As Sundstrom and Westhoff surveyed Prime Hook Road they received word that the Coastal Highway (Del. Route 1) from Dewey Beach to Bethany Beach had to be closed down when water washed over the road near the Indian River Inlet Bridge. Water had crested the dunes near the bridge, Westhoff said.
DelDOT would inspect road conditions on Thursday morning and re-evaluate, he said.
The National Weather Service had predicted that rain would turn into snow by nightfall Wednesday and expected to keep its winter storm warning in effect until 3 a.m. Thursday.