By Joe Beck
Looks can be deceiving. Monday's clear, sunny skies gave no hint of a snow-laden winter storm that is barreling toward on the area.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for Tuesday evening through Wednesday evening. Possible snow accumulations of more than 5 inches are predicted with totals reaching more than a foot in some parts of the watch area, which includes Warren, Frederick and Shenandoah counties.
The storm is likely to begin as rain, then change to snow later in the night, and continue on through Wednesday evening, according to the weather service. Forecasters warned of treacherous driving conditions and heavy wet snow and wind gusts that could produce power outages.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the low- to mid-30s with northeast winds blowing at 10 to 20 mph Tuesday night and north winds of 15 to 25 mph Wednesday, gusting up to 35 mph.
Officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative said they are gearing up for the storm.
Rappahannock warned of possible power outages as trees and limbs land on power lines. The utility issued a statement promising that its crews are "standing by to ensure restoration is completed as quickly and safely as possible."
Other employees are preparing to assume duties assigned to them during storms, according to the statement.
The utility urged its customers to be ready with flashlights, batteries, a can opener and a battery powered radio. The utility also recommended customers report outages online and with smart phones to reduce strain on heavily used telephone lines. Those with smart phones should go to the REC web site at myrec.coop, log into Web self-serve and go to the My Outage page.
Sandy Myers, communications manager for VDOT's Staunton's office, said road crews are "well-rehearsed" from smaller storms this winter that did not prove to be as bad as initially feared.
She said the rain forecast for the early stages of the approaching storm will prevent road crews from applying de-icing chemicals to the pavement, unlike the earlier storms that began with ice and snow.
She urged drivers to stay off the roads Wednesday, if possible.
"The more people who are on the road, particularly in a storm like this, the more people you have stuck on the side of the road," she said. "Roads start to close if you get too many stuck . . .It's just better if people shelter in place."
Myers urged drivers to visit VDOT's 511.com web site to check on road conditions before they venture into the storm.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org