Blizzard of 2016: Region burrows out of snow

Anson Crieer, 9, of Strasburg, digs outs his father's car on Funk Street on Sunday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

The blizzard that rampaged throughout the area for 30 hours over the weekend will force many people to literally dig deep to free themselves over the next several days from mounds of snow that neared 3 feet in some areas.

Forecasters had been warning of a monumental snowstorm since early last week, and nature delivered its wind-blown wallop from mid-day Friday through late Saturday afternoon.

National Weather Service snowfall totals showed 30 to 33 inches in Winchester and 32 inches in Kiro in Warren County. Strasburg recorded 22.8 inches, an eye-popping total under almost any other circumstances, but relatively light compared to other totals in the Shenandoah Valley.

The area’s electrical grid held up well. Public safety officials reported only small, isolated outages and no deaths or major injuries attributed to the storm. There were no reports of structures collapsing from heavy snowfall on roofs.

The outlook for the new next few days remains highly uncertain, despite favorable weather conditions on Monday.

Paul Zdepski works on clearing his neighbor's driveway along Dickerson Lane in Strasburg on Jan. 24. Rich Cooley/Daily

Richard E. Mabie, Warren County Chief of Fire and Rescue Services, warned that roads and driveways will continue to be treacherous in some places. Mabie said many ambulances on emergency calls were accompanied by brush trucks that cleared a path for them on the way to their destinations. In some cases, rescue crews halted by snow a short distance from the home of a stricken resident covered the remaining ground on foot, Mabie said.

“The roads are terrible,” Mabie said Sunday morning. “We still have a lot places in the county we cannot go.”

Sunday night’s forecast called for a low of around 3 with little wind. Increasing clouds with a high near 35 are likely today followed by a low of 27 tonight under mostly cloudy skies.

A chance of showers and a high near 43 is predicted for Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported steadily improving conditions as of early Sunday morning, but warned that most roads were covered with snow and were susceptible to refreezing at nighttime.

Icicles hang from this canopy along East King Street in Strasburg on Sunday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

VDOT reported that its road crews and contractors had been plowing around the clock since early Friday morning when the agency deployed more than 1,000 pieces of blizzard-fighting equipment.

The agency listed Interstate 81 in Shenandoah and Frederick counties as mostly clear, except for a few icy patches. Interstate 66 had snow or ice on major portions of the road, as did primary roads in Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties. Secondary roads were faring the worst. They remained partially blocked throughout Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter reported no deaths or major injuries from the storm, but he added there was a traffic tie-up at the Toms Brook interchange on I-81 as he was speaking Sunday morning.

VDOT also reported the off ramp at exit 291 in Shenandoah County at Toms Brook was closed to prevent tractor trailers from stopping and parking on the Interstate. The agency said truck stop parking lots off the interstate were filled along parts of the road.

Carter said the Sheriff’s Office had deputies stay in hotel rooms in Woodstock since Friday night to ensure there were enough available to staff shifts throughout the blizzard.

Eric Barnett of Strasburg digs out his pickup Sunday morning outside his Funk Street home in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I think right now majority of the county is digging out of driveways and things like that,” Carter said.

Carter said preliminary totals showed most of his agency’s 84 service calls from noon Friday until noon Sunday dealt with traffic problems and what he called “citizen assistance” – missing persons and checks on the well-being of elderly and disabled persons. None were classified as major incidents.

Shenandoah County traffic calls were divided among 18 crashes and 23 complaints about abandoned vehicles, disabled vehicles, road blockages and similar matters. There were also two alcohol-related disturbances in the county, neither of which resulted in arrests.

In Frederick County, Public Information Officer Karen Vacchio noted in an email that Chester Lauck, deputy director of emergency managed, reported “there were no major issues during the storm and call volume was generally slower than normal.”

The Virginia State Police Culpeper office reported 23 crashes and 126 disabled vehicles from noon Friday until 10 p.m. Saturday in an area encompassing Harrisonburg, Winchester, Culpeper and Fredericksburg.

A pair of snow plows knock back the snow along King Street in Strasburg on Sunday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

State police totals for all of Virginia from Friday through 5 p.m. Sunday showed 1,464 traffic crashes and an additional 2,214 disabled vehicles.

State police reported five confirmed storm-related deaths as of 1:30 p.m. Sunday: a fatal traffic crash in Chesapeake, and four cases related to hypothermia, one in Hampton, one in Wise County, one in Charles City County and one in Gloucester County.

Triple AAA of the Mid-Atlantic region warned in a written statement that it could take as long as a week for “things to return to any state of normalcy” as government agencies and individual citizens worked to clear away snow drifts.

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