A major winter storm slammed through Central Virginia, dropping as much as 10 inches of snow in Charlottesville and Albemarle County before noon on Monday, closing highways and byways and leaving thousands without power.
The storm also ushered in a cold front with temperatures expected to drop into the teens Monday night.
“Temperatures will fall through the 20s in most places before reaching the lower to middle teens later tonight,” National Weather Service meteorologists said on the service’s website, Monday night. “These cold temperatures will allow for untreated roads to freeze and become very icy, especially since we have seen a few hours of sunlight across most of the region.”
The service predicts seasonably cold temperatures Tuesday with highs in the mid-30s.
The temperature drop and seasonable rise has Virginia Department of Transportation officials and others cautioning morning commuters about snowmelt that could freeze overnight and leave ice on the roads.
“As evening sets in and temperatures drop into the teens, anything that’s melted during the day will freeze overnight and cause extremely dangerous, icy road conditions,” said Corinne Geller, Virginia State Police spokeswoman.
“The danger tonight is that the snow that is now melting will freeze on the roads tonight as temperatures drop. Black ice might form, which is invisible,” said Len Stevens, of VDOT. “Anyone taking to the roads should be mindful of that, watch their speeds closely and prepare to encounter slick spots on road surfaces, particularly bridges and overpasses, which cool more quickly.”
The possibility of icy roads and bitter cold temperatures spurred school officials in Charlottesville and Albemarle County to extend by a day their students’ winter break. Classes were set to resume Tuesday, but both school divisions called that off, citing the road conditions and power outages.
As many as 50,000 electricity customers in Central Virginia were expected to go into Monday night powerless. Representatives for three local power companies serving the region hoped to restore power to many by Monday night, but warned customers to be prepared for at least one night without power.
For most of Monday, driving proved a challenge. The heavy, wet snow and falling temperatures combined with terrain to strand more than a dozen tractor-trailers on U.S. 29 just outside of Lovingston, in Nelson County.
The semis were unable to make it up the steep inclines, causing some to be stranded on the road and others to be involved in minor accidents. The road was shut down for hours until the road could be treated enough for the trucks to resume traveling. It reopened about 15 minutes before the storm moved out of the area at 1 p.m..
U.S. 29 was not alone. It was trees, not snow, that shuttered Interstate 64, east of Charlottesville.
VDOT officials shut down the interstate to give crews a chance to clear several large trees that, laden with heavy snow, snapped and fell across the interstate and prevented traffic and snowplows from clearing the road.
The trees came down between the U.S. 250/Pantops exit and all the way to Goochland County. Portions of the road closer to Goochland remained closed into Monday night.
“The crews used heavy equipment to cut the trees and remove them from the interstate, but high winds continued to fell trees, making for dangerous conditions for the crews and impeding the progress of snowplows to clear snow from the highway,” said Lou Hatter, VDOT spokesman.
Cars crashed, spun out, slid off the road and into guardrails, trees and other vehicles Monday morning. The regional Emergency Communications Center answered about 650 9-1-1 calls between 7 a.m. and noon, with 187 calls coming between 11 a.m. and noon.
The center normally handles about 30 calls an hour on a Monday and the volume led center officials to ask people to only dial 9-1-1 for more serious emergencies.
“Due to the volume of calls and active incidents, we ask that individuals only call 9-1-1 if there is an active emergency in order to ensure that people requiring urgent assistance are able to receive help,” they wrote.
The weather service said the region should expect Tuesday night lows in the 20s with a temperature bump Wednesday into the mid-40s.