The age-old adage has March coming in like a lion, but Central Virginians may find that metaphorical big cat to look more like an angry snow leopard.
A winter storm front followed by a blast of Arctic air is expected to drop two to four inches of snow during the day, drop temperatures into the teens at night and shove wind chills toward or below zero, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm is expected to bring enough rain, snow, and sleet that even the mail service may put off appointed rounds. The precipitation should turn to all snow by 9 a.m. and be heavy at times while temperatures drop below freezing by midday.
While snow and temperatures fall, the wind will pick up to as much as 25 miles per hour and gusts as high as 37 miles per hour.
“Wind chills will drop into the teens and single digits [Saturday] afternoon, then reach their lowest values [Saturday] night,” meteorologists said in comments on the weather service website. “Wind chills should bottom out below zero to the west of Interstate 81 with wind chills as cold as -20 in the mountains. To the east of the Blue Ridge, wind chills will bottom out in the single digits.”
The local storm is part of a big front pushing through the eastern portion of the U.S. predicted to bring heavy rain and flooding farther south, and as much a foot of snow in New England.
Meteorologists said on the website that it is unusual to see a rain-to-snow event east of the mountains during this time of year, but point to the strong cold front blowing Arctic air into the area as the cause.
They predict possible periods of heavy snow, falling at one to two inches per hour at time. The mix of snow, wind and cold could lead to blizzard-like conditions, even if the storm doesn’t meet the technical requirements of a blizzard.
“The combination of moderate to heavy snowfall and very high winds could produce localized near blizzard conditions [Saturday] morning,” meteorologists said. “A blizzard warning was considered, but confidence wasn’t high enough in the quarter-mile visibility requirement being met for three hours straight.”
Most of the snowfall is expected during the morning hours with some occasional snow fall as late as 7 p.m. Meteorologists said there is a chance that snow squalls, intense but limited duration heavy snowfall with strong gusty surface winds and even lightning, could occur in some areas.
“Snow squall warnings may be needed to the east of the mountains tomorrow afternoon into tomorrow evening,” they said. “These snow squalls may produce brief whiteout conditions along with high winds, making travel treacherous.”
The rain, sleet, snow and wind combination has Virginia Department of Transportation crews ready to hit the streets.
“Once precipitation begins falling, VDOT snowplow operators and contract crews will treat roads with salt and sand to aid melting and improve traction,” said Lou Hatter, VDOT spokesman. “When the snow accumulates to about two inches, the plows will push the snow off the roadways.”
Hatter said crews will work around the clock to clear roads, beginning with interstates and primary highways, then secondary roads. Neighborhood streets under VDOT maintenance will be cleared once main roads are passable.
“VDOT urges the public to avoid unnecessary travel during the storm since road conditions are likely to be hazardous, with blowing snow and icing overnight Saturday,” he said.