A wintry mix of snow, sleet and rain swept across Central Virginia on Wednesday, toppling trees and limbs and causing power outages throughout the area.
Officials urged motorists to stay off the roads as conditions deteriorated. The overnight cold temperatures will cause the water to refreeze, complicating morning commutes. To give the roads time to thaw, Albemarle County Public Schools and Charlottesville City Schools announced two-hour delays for online classes Thursday.
The Virginia Department of Transportation encouraged people to delay their travel until temperatures rise above freezing Thursday morning.
“Drivers who must travel late Wednesday and early Thursday should drive for the conditions by reducing speed and increasing following distance,” said Will Merritt with VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Merritt said Wednesday evening that the VDOT crews were starting to an increase in reports of downed trees and utility lines because of the ice that had accumulated. A downed power line briefly closed Interstate 64 near Black Cat Road.
Albemarle County Police Department responded to 10 car crashes as of 4 p.m. Wednesday and dealt with traffic hazards on the roads, such as downed trees, spokeswoman Abbey Stumpf said.
“Both ACPD and ACFR encourage everyone to stay home if they can and avoid going out onto the roadways as this weather continues and the temperatures drop,” Stumpf said. “For tomorrow’s commute, it’s best to check local road conditions before going out.”
Charlottesville police also responded to numerous traffic hazards from the ice storm, primarily downed trees and power lines.
To check road conditions, go to 511virginia.org. As of 4 p.m., road conditions varied widely through the Culpeper District, Merritt said.
VDOT said crews are out putting down sand and salt to keep ice from forming and to provide traction. Should enough slush or snow accumulate, the crews will put their plows down to the road to clean the surface.
Across the state, Virginia State Police troopers responded to about 200 crashes and 125 disabled vehicles as of 3 p.m. One North Carolina man died in a crash on Interstate 81, and slick road conditions were a factor, according to state police.
In Fluvanna County, some roads, including Union Mills Road and around Lake Monticello, were impassable because of downed trees.
“We ask that people stay home if they can, but if they must drive, please make sure your vehicle is in proper working order, your tires are good, and that you slow down and allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination,” Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office officials said on the department’s Facebook page.
The storm started Wednesday morning with mostly sleet falling.
Charlottesville was seeing mostly sleet beginning around 10:30 a.m. as warm and moist air, called a warm nose, moved in atop cold air already in place. The line of sleet and freezing rain ran from Greene County to southern Stafford County, according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service.
“The main challenge throughout the day will be forecasting the advance of this warm nose aloft toward the north and west and its resultant impact on precipitation types across the area,” they wrote. “Current guidance suggests that the warm nose will make it roughly to the Blue Ridge [Mountains], making mixing possible at times for locations to the east of the Blue Ridge.”