Winter storm hits valley, creates dangerous driving conditions

By Katie Demeria

The winter storm hitting the area today resulted from two systems that moved across the country this weekend, dropping ice and snow on the valley and creating highly hazardous road conditions for today and Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for many parts of Virginia. Originally expected to last until 6 p.m. today, it was canceled at 1:30 p.m. when snow began to taper off, though NWS warned in its cancellation message that slick conditions would persist.

According to NWS meteorologist Jim Lee, the valley should see around 6 to 8 inches of snow.

Gov. Terry McAuliff declared a state of emergency early today, authorizing state agencies to respond where they are needed throughout the state.

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative issued a news release this morning warning of possible outages due to snow and ice accumulation on trees. As of 4 p.m., REC reported that 382 members had no power in Warren County. Dominion Power reported 360 outages throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Many schools in the area closed due to the weather, including Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties, along with the City of Winchester.

“Treacherous” driving conditions

The storm started as rain last night, then turned to freezing rain and sleet before transitioning into snow early this morning, Lee said.

According to Sandy Myers of the Virginia Department of Transportation, those conditions are the most difficult for VDOT crews to treat.

“I like to say that every storm has a personality,” Myers said. “For this one, you’ve got that rain and sleet to snow mixture, so you’ll have that ice under the surface. That could make for very treacherous driving.”

Plows have a hard time reaching the ice packed under the heavy, wet snow, she added. Pretreatment was also not an option — the rain that started the storm would have washed all the chemicals away.

“People just need to have a little patience because this is very difficult for us to work through,” she said.

As of noon Monday, Myers said most road conditions were moderate to severe.

In a news release, Corinne Geller of the Virginia State Police said troopers responded to 800 traffic crashes throughout the state between midnight and 3 p.m. today. State police dispatch centers received more than 2,000 calls for service, the release stated.

Of those incidents, 128 occurred in the Culpeper district, which includes Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick counties.

Few of those calls involved injuries, the release continued. One weather-related fatality was reported in Amelia county.

Myers said traveling conditions will likely continue to be hazardous throughout the day and into Tuesday morning.

“The challenge is of course the temperature, so even when the plows come through, there still might be that little layer of ice underneath,” she said.

The chemicals that crews use to treat the roads only work above a certain temperature, she added. When the temperature drops into the single digits, as it is expected to tonight, there is little crews can do to treat the ice.

“We’re suggesting people try to avoid travel if they can, probably for at least another day,” Myers said.

Unseasonable cold

According to Lee, tonight the valley could see record lows, with temperatures falling close to 5 degrees.

“That’s pretty cold for around our region for early in March,” Lee said. “We’re getting single digit low temperatures three weeks before spring — that’s pretty cold.”

Wind will likely not play a role today, he continued, so residents should not have to worry about the impact of an even colder wind chill.

“I’m sure there will be some sheltered locations in the valley that are going to be very close to zero,” he added.

This storm is a result of a low-pressure system that moved up the East Coast from the southeast area of the nation, starting a little west of the Mississippi Valley, he said.

The chilly temperatures are caused by an arctic air mass moving in from the Great Lakes region, he continued.

The 6 to 8 inches of snow likely to accumulate today will probably stick around throughout the rest of the week.

Temperatures will be around freezing Tuesday during the day, then back down into the teens Tuesday night. Wednesday may get into the 30s as a high, with lows in the low 20s.

“Certainly, when you get these temperatures in the heart of winter it’s normal, and that’s typically mid to late January,” Lee said. “But then again, it is still winter. Spring will start March 20.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com