Virginia Department of Transportation crews were salting and plowing Sunday afternoon on the heels of the second major snowstorm to hit Central Virginia in two weeks.
Upwards of four inches had fallen in Charlottesville and Albemarle County by early evening Sunday, creating treacherous travel and leaving motorists and pedestrians to slog through slick and slippery streets.
“Interstates and primary roads in the Culpeper District are in moderate condition, covered with packed snow but drivable with caution,” said Lou Hatter, VDOT spokesman. “Secondary roads are also in moderate condition and have not been plowed. VDOT is continuing to ask drivers to stay off the roads.”
The winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service remains in place until 7 a.m. Monday, by which time the snow should be moving up the East Coast. The falling snow was expected to turn into freezing rain and ice as the storm worked its way through the overnight hours.
“The worst may be yet to come,” Hatter said. “The snow is changing to sleet in some areas and is forecast to change to freezing rain. The wind will pick up significantly, which could result in downed trees and power lines. After that, bitterly cold temperatures will result in a refreeze, exacerbating dangerous conditions.”
The Jan. 3 storm that blew through the region left tens of thousands of utility customers without power, some for nearly a week. As of Sunday evening, however, there were no widespread outages reported and very few scattered outages.
City of Charlottesville road crews began plowing Sunday evening, having already pretreated the roads Saturday night. Exactly how much snow will finally drop is anyone’s guess as predictions during the past few days have varied from three to five inches to between seven inches and a foot.
As of midday Sunday, weather service prognosticators were predicting four to six inches with about a tenth of an inch of ice.
They also were predicting that a warm layer aloft would move in later Sunday and lead to a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain for areas east of Interstate 81.
“Areas along the Interstate 95 corridor should start transitioning first, between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. this evening,” weather officials said.
Although VDOT, weather officials and even the Virginia State Police exhorted people to stay home, many went driving anyway.
“Troopers have responded to 369 traffic crashes and 282 disabled vehicles since 12:01 a.m. Sunday through 4:30 p.m.,” said Shelby Crouch, of the state police. “The majority of those crashes have involved only damage to vehicles. There have been no reported traffic fatalities during this time period.”
Police noted that the roads have been and remain extremely risky. Sunday afternoon a state trooper was traveling east on Interstate 64 when another driver tried to pass, lost control and smacked the patrol car. No one was hurt.
To add insult to the region’s injury, the snow could make a repeat performance next weekend.
“There is a slight winter storm threat for early Saturday morning into Saturday night,” meteorologists said. “If this threat materializes, it may cause travel disruptions. This would put strong winds in the east and moderate to heavy snow. We still have 5 to 6 days until this potential winter storm, so the exact track and intensity could change quite a few times between now and then.”
Key Recreation Center in downtown Charlottesville has stocked and will open as a warming shelter Monday at 11 a.m.
The Charlottesville High School gym will be a backup location in case Key loses power or power outages become widespread enough to require additional space.