By Joe Beck
Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. All the conditions appeared to be right for a big snowstorm to wallop the Northern Shenandoah Valley through much of today.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning Tuesday morning calling for accumulations of 10 to 15 inches beginning around 8 p.m. By mid-afternoon, forecasters were predicting up to 20 inches along Interstate 81 and the mountains. Snow could fall at rates of one to two inches per hour, they said.
Late afternoon rain was forecast to turn to snow shortly after sunset and continue through daylight hours today before tapering off. The storm warning was due to expire at midnight.
Public schools in Shenandoah, Frederick, Warren and Page counties are closed today.
Temperatures are expected to reach a high of 33 and a low of 29 today with northeast winds of 15 to 25 mph gusting upwards of 35 mph.
The weather service warned that conditions will make travel "very hazardous or impossible."
And the storm is likely to hit hardest in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Chris Strong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sterling, said 12 to 18 inches of snow could fall between Winchester and Harrisonburg.
"It looks like you guys are pretty much in the jackpot for the storm as far as snowfall totals," Strong said.
He said the area was in a "sweet spot" today that put it in the path of the storm as it intensified in the west. Warmer coastal air may keep more precipitation in the form of rain, but that is more likely to happen after the storm moves farther east, he said.
"It's going to be a heavy, wet snow that's going to have the potential to bring down trees and cause power outages," Strong warned.
Road crews and other government workers braced for a grueling schedule through tonight.
Front Royal Town Manager Steve Burke said he believes the town is "as prepared as we can be, and we're simply waiting for however serious the storm develops."
Burke said he expects town offices will remain open today and normal garbage collection is scheduled, although the severity of the storm may delay service if workers are reassigned to snow removal.
The town issued a news release asking residents not to block alleys or utility poles and park vehicles in driveways or other off-road locations to ease plowing.
Officials in Shenandoah County said they also were ready for rugged conditions. County Administrator Douglash Walker noted, "We certainly are communicating pretty actively here in the county, so we maintain continuity of services, particularly critical public safety services."
Strong said heavy snow is more common in January or February, but one of the worst regional storms on record hit in late March in 1993.
"We get big storms. They're just less frequent this time of year," he said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org