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Ice storm warning in effect; delays, power outages expected

An ice storm is ahead for Virginia Wednesday night and Thursday, and the National Weather Service is encouraging caution on the road and major highways.

The National Weather Service said that the ice storm warning is in effect through Thursday afternoon for portions of northern and central Virginia, including Albemarle, Greene, Madison, Nelson, Orange, and Culpeper. The Service warned of slippery road conditions for the Thursday morning commute as well as increased risk of injury from walking on icy sidewalks and driveways.

Among the expected consequences: Delays and closures on highways, downed trees, and power outages.

The same storm that has already made headlines in the western two-thirds of the country will bring between 1-2 inches of rain for most of Virginia, including metro Richmond.

Additionally, there will be occasional sleet as the storm arrives in Virginia on Wednesday night, then a slow transition to all rain as the temperatures crawl through the 40s during Thursday.

Sleet, also known as ice pellets, does not accrete and weigh down surfaces such as tree limbs and power lines. Freezing rain, which is liquid until making contact with the sub-freezing ground, does weigh down surfaces and leads to more traffic accidents and power outages.

For metro Richmond, light rain is expected to move in a couple of hours after midnight on Wednesday night, and there will probably be some wet sleet mixing in with the rain until a few hours after daybreak. Don’t be surprised if you hear the occasional pinging sound of sleet on Thursday morning, but the ground temperature will hold above freezing, so significant travel problems are not expected beyond the normal wet roads. Nonetheless, roads will remain wet and rain will continue for most of Thursday. Rainfall intensity will vary through the day, but the rain will not be finished for good until after sunset.

Rain totals across the metro area will be on the lower end of the statewide totals, around 1 to 1.5 inches. Aside from urban areas that do not drain especially well, flooding is not expected. Rainfall has been below normal over the past few weeks, and the rainfall rates will not be consistently high.

Traveling from Richmond northward on Interstate 95 or westward on I-64 or U.S. 360, sleet will be more common late Wednesday night through midday Thursday. Westward from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, where the precipitation starts earlier than it does in Richmond, there will be a small sleet accumulation and areas of freezing rain. The greatest threat for accumulating ice to impact travel and produce some power outages will be from Lexington and Covington, northward to Winchester. But be on the lookout for small pockets of accumulating ice as nearby as Appomattox, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg.

Once the rain ends Thursday night, temperatures remain above freezing by a few degrees in metro Richmond, so surfaces on Friday morning will just be wet. Clouds will mix with sunshine on Friday with an occasional west breeze, and that will dry out roads and sidewalks quickly through Friday afternoon.

Much colder air moves in for Sunday and Monday, holding afternoons in the lower to middle 40s and sending nights well down into the 20s, but there is no further threat of precipitation until the middle of next week in the form of some occasional rain showers.

A much larger system approaches about a day or two before Christmas, but most of the data suggest the core of the storm tracks to the west of Virginia, across the Ohio Valley and into the northern Appalachians. This would again put Virginia on the warm side of the storm, yielding another spell of soaking rain ending right before Christmas Eve.

But it is still too early to dismiss the opportunity for snow right before Christmas, or perhaps even some flurries on Christmas Day. A small shift in the track of that storm or its steering winds by a few hundred miles will dramatically change the forecast. When we are looking at a storm that has not even formed yet, and is still 10 days away, an error of 200-300 miles is to be expected.

One thing is becoming more clear in the wake of that storm. The coldest air so far this season will follow it for a couple of days. Christmas morning in Richmond will probably be in the teens or lower 20s. And if we had to make a guess about the weather on Christmas Day in central Virginia, our first thought would be mostly cloudy, breezy and cold with an afternoon temperature in the 30s.

But for snow lovers, there’s still time.


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