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Posted March 6, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Wednesday snow storm forces widespread closures

By Joe Beck

A winter storm pummeled the region Wednesday with heavy snow that forced many schools and government offices to close throughout the northern Shenandoah Valley.

Utility companies reported power outages from debris landing on power lines, although the worst of the damage appeared farther south in the Shenandoah Valley.

Cliff Balderson, administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation's Edinburg office said he had measured 14 inches in Edinburg during the afternoon and estimated the same amount had fallen in the Linden area. Balderson said snowfall ranged from eight to 15 inches throughout the area from what he could see driving the roads.

Gov. Robert McDonnell declared a state of emergency, allowing state agencies to support local governments in their efforts to contain the storm's effects.

Mid-morning data from the Virginia State Police showed that counties in and around the northern Shenandoah Valley were at or near the top of agency's list for traffic accidents, disabled vehicles and total calls for service among seven branch offices in Virginia.

The Culpeper Division, which includes Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties had 76 crashes, 74 disabled vehicles and 293 total calls for service, according to the state police.

The agency said troopers statewide responded to 367 crashes, 237 disabled vehicles and 547 calls for service between midnight and 10 a.m.

A winter storm warning from the National Weather Service remained in effect until midnight. Forecasters predicted up to 20 inches of snow along the Interstate 81 corridor and mountains.

Public schools closed in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page counties and Winchester City, as well as Lord Fairfax Community College.

Government offices in Strasburg, Shenandoah County, Winchester and Clarke County also closed. The closures also included federal offices in Washington, D.C.

The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative reported 14,880 members without power as of 11 a.m., most of them in Augusta, Page and Rockingham counties. The SVEC listed 251 outages in Frederick County and 1,927 in Shenandoah County and 103 in Warren County.

The Rappahannock Electric Cooperative reported 248 outages in Warren County, 163 in Frederick County and one in Shenandoah County as of 7:13 a.m.

Later reports from AccuWeather.com cited 91,000 power outages among Dominion Electric customers, about 70,000 of them in the Shenandoah Valley and Western Piedmont area of the state.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported snow or ice and moderate driving conditions throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley as of about 9 a.m.

The weather service warned drivers in its winter storm warning statement that "snow covered roads and poor visibilities will make driving extremely dangerous."

State police spokeswoman Corrine Geller issued a written statement urging drivers to slow down and increase driving distance between vehicles to allow for longer braking.

Front Royal appeared to be receiving the worst of the storm, as of 9:30 a.m. today. Town Manager Steve Burke reported "a significant loss of power" on the south side caused by the failure of an electric feed from Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to a substation.

Burke said crews were working to reroute service to other substations.

He issued a news release later in the morning declaring that power to the stricken Remount Road substation had been restored.

Burke urged residents to remain in their homes as road crews continued to plow and apply salt in falling snow. Burke asked residents to call the town at 635-8007 if they have any questions about the power outage.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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