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UPDATED: Region deals with downed trees, prepares for ice in storm's wake

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m.

The sun is shining and the temperature is dropping but the presents brought by the first winter storm of the season keep on giving.

Trees laden to breaking by more than five inches of heavy, wet snow have snapped across Central Virginia, blocking interstates and forcing an Amtrak train on its way to Charlottesville from Lynchburg to stay in place as crews work to clear the tracks.

“Amtrak Train 176 continues to be delayed north of Lynchburg due to numerous downed trees blocking the route ahead,” Amtrak officials said in a social media post. “Crews are working to clear the trees. We will update as new information becomes available.”

Virginia Department of Transportation officials shut down portions of Interstate 64 and U.S. 250 near Goochland to give crews a chance to clear several large trees laden with heavy snow that snapped and fell across the interstate.

“The crews are using heavy equipment to cut the trees and remove them from the interstate, but high winds continue 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.

While crews work to remove trees, VDOT officials are concerned that dropping temperatures overnight could create extreme ice conditions on backroads, highways and interstates for Tuesday’s rush hour.

“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 tonight 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.”

Driving has been a challenge through most of the day. For several hours Monday morning, the northbound lanes of U.S. 29 in Lovingston were impassable after more than a dozen tractor-trailers got stuck in the snow or involved in minor crashes.

Virginia State police worked with area wrecker services, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office and VDOT to move the vehicles as quickly as possible. The last of the vehicles were removed by 12:45 p.m..

For those staying off the roads, staying warm has been a challenge. Dominion Energy reports more than 12,000 Charlottesville customers without power as of 3:30 p.m. and nearly 31,000 in Albemarle County.

An estimated 45,000 customers are powerless throughout Central Virginia with another estimated 4,500 in Greene, Madison and Orange counties with service through Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

Representatives for both Dominion and Rapphannock predict that most customers should see power restored during the evening, but cautioned that customers should prepare for a powerless night as crews work to get the electricity flowing.

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UPDATE: 2:30 P.M.

The snow has stopped but the havoc it wrought keeps on wreaking.

National Weather Service radar shows the storm that dropped as much as five inches on Charlottesville and more in the higher elevations has knocked out power and dropped trees on streets, power lines and homes.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials have shut down Interstate 64 east of Charlottesville to give crews a chance to clear several large trees laden with heavy snow that snapped and fell across the interstate. The trees are preventing snowplows from clearing the interstate from the U.S. 250/Pantops through to Goochland County.

“The crews are using heavy equipment to cut the trees and remove them from the interstate, but high winds continue 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.

“Motorists who must travel this afternoon should not use I-64 east of Charlottesville,” he said. “U.S. 250 is an alternate route, but VDOT advises to postpone non-essential travel until the storm passes and roads are clear.”

The interstate isn’t the only road that has faced closure during the winter storm that has dropped an estimated five inches of wet snow in the area, knocked out power and made travel difficult.

For several hours Monday morning, the northbound lanes of U.S. 29 in Lovingston were impassable after more than a dozen tractor-trailers got stuck in the snow or involved in minor crashes.

Virginia State police worked with area wrecker services, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office and VDOT to move the vehicles as quickly as possible. The last of the vehicles were removed by 12:45 p.m. by motorists and commercial vehicles are being discouraged from traversing that stretch of U.S. 29 until conditions improve.

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 calls include calls for downed trees, power lines and a variety of minor vehicle crashes all throughout the area.

“Due to the current 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,” communications officials said in a prepared statement.

The weather service is predicting an increase in wind speed as the day progresses at the same time it expects temperatures to drop toward an overnight low of 13 degrees.

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UPDATE: 12:20 p.m.

The National Weather Service is sticking to its 1 p.m. estimate of when the snow will move out of Central Virginia and on to Maryland, but as the storm tapers off and peters out it leaves behind slick roads and powerless homes.

Dominion Energy reported nearly 56,500 customers without electricity as of noon, with thousands of reports without an estimated time when power would be restored. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves most of Greene County, Madison County and portions of Orange County, reported about 5,000 customers without power.

"As of 11:30 a.m., nearly 70,000 member-owners are without power due to hundreds of separate outage events. As a result, [Rappahannock] expects outages to last beyond today,” officials said in a statement. “Field crews were staged for storm response and had mobilized equipment and supplies in advance of the storm. With safety as a top priority, crews are responding to make repairs and restore service as quickly as possible.”

In Charlottesville, Dominion Energy officials said about 12,100 customers were without service as the company investigated 72 different issues with the delivery system. About 30,700 Albemarle County residents were also without power with 127 problems being investigated.

Virginia State Police said they responded to nearly 320 traffic crashes and aided 277 disabled or stuck motorists since the snow began. They said most crashes have involved only damage to vehicles.

Among those crashes was a tractor-trailer on Interstate 64 just outside of Charlottesville that collaborated with the snowy conditions to slow highway traffic to a crawl during the morning rush hour.

Police said numerous crashes and vehicles off the road were caused by motorists driving too fast for conditions.

Weather service meteorologists said the snow will likely prove to be the heaviest in an area from Orange County to Anne Arundel County in Maryland. An estimated 10 inches fell in parts of Stafford County with the heaviest snow ranging from Albemarle County to Loudon County.

At times, snowfall rates reached 1 to 3 inches per hour before tapering off from the southwest toward the northeast.

UPDATE: 10:15 a.m.

If you can read this, you’re power is either on or your battery is getting low.

Virginia Dominion Energy is reporting as many as 20,000 customers without power in Charlottesville, Albemarle County and surrounding areas, with at least 2,000 without electricity in the Charlottesville urban area.

Power outages are scattered all across the region, into the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley and on toward Richmond, according to the utility.

Shortly after 7 a.m., the Charlottesville Area Transit suspended its trolley service due to a downed powerline and by 8 a.m. shut down service until later.

Roads around the region are taking a beating, according to Virginia State Police social media accounts.

“It may look pretty outside, but it’s certainly not so on Virginia’s highways right now,” state police posted on Twitter. “[State police] is on scene as of 9:45 a.m. of 100-plus traffic crashes. Please be patient and stay off the roads for your safety and to make it easier for the Virginia Department of Transportation to get its job done.”

While many are waiting to turn on their lights, Albemarle County officials announced their lights are on and they will be home, open and operating with regular business hours. They recommend citizens calling (434) 243-7929 before going to the offices to make sure the right staff was able to get to work.

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UPDATE: 9:30 a.m.

Slick and slippery roads have sent some motorists slip-sliding away on side streets and the interstate, including a tractor-trailer crash on westbound Interstate 64 near Dick Woods Road.

The crash has closed the left shoulder and left lane of the interstate and is causing backups in both directions.

The Emergency Communications Center has reported a crash near the overlook on I-64 eastbound near mile marker 103 with one vehicle rolled over.

The interstate in both directions has the right lane mostly open with vehicles driving in tire tracks while the left lanes are open, but snow covered, according to Virginia Department of Transportation cameras.

Side streets throughout the area are also snow covered, or slick and slushy. That has also caused a smattering of crashes, including one vehicle reported off the road at Thomas Jefferson Parkway and Monticello Loop.

"We are urging everyone to shelter in place. Road conditions are extremely hazardous," said Maj. David Wells, chief deputy of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office. "We have multiple trees and power lines down throughout the county. We have very limited wrecker service, and if you get stuck there is a two to three hour wait time, if they can reach you."

Wells recommended people stay home, if they can.

"Shelter in place until the storm passes and road crews and power companies can get caught up," he said.

Trees are also reported fallen in areas of the city and the county, including one that may have fallen atop a house. No injuries were reported.

The National Weather service is predicting the snow will continue until noon and has issued a winter storm warning until 1 p.m.. Meteorologists predict between five and 10 inches of snow could fall on Central Virginia through to Richmond, with eight to 14 inches possible along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Charlottesville city officials have announced that city offices will not open until noon, due to the snow.

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UPDATE: 6:44 a.m.

Central Virginia roads and highways are growing snow covered, slick and slippery as the winter’s first snowfall, and its first storm, begin in earnest.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, most main roads running through the region, including Interstate 64, U.S. 250 and U.S. 29 are facing slushy or snow covered conditions with the storm limiting visibility on Interstate 64 around Afton Mountain.

“At this hour, weather impacts are limited to the western area near the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter. “Heavy snow is expected to continue through the morning, with significant accumulations in a short period of time. Later today high winds will add to the hazardous conditions with the potential for trees and debris to fall on roads.”

VDOT crews and contractors are on the roads deploying a mix of sand and salt to melt snow and provide better grip for tires.

“Once the snow and slush 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, shifting onto secondary roads and neighborhood streets once the main roads are cleared.”

Hatter recommends anyone who doesn’t need to drive, stay home.

The snow has slowed not only traffic, but the opening of many government offices. Both Albemarle and Charlottesville courts, Circuit Court and District Court, are delaying opening until 10 a.m..

Schools are closed in Buckingham and Greene counties and the towns of Gordonsville and Orange are opening two hours late, along with Madison County government offices.

According to the University of Virginia’s social media accounts, the storm has moved January term classes, which start today, indoors to all online course.

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The National Weather Service predicts heavy snow with accumulation of three to seven inches, starting about 5 a.m. Monday. The NWS has issued a winter weather advisory from 11 p.m. Jan. 2 until 1 p.m. Jan. 3.

The NWS and the Virginia State Police urge travelers to stay at home if possible. The NWS cautions that if people must travel, they should keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in their vehicle in case of an emergency.

Also, the agency cautions that people take care when venturing outside. "Watch your first few steps taken onsteps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury," the agency said.

The National Weather Service forecasts a sharp drop in temperature Monday night, with a low of 17 degrees possible on Tuesday morning, Jan. 4. That’s the day local schoolchildren are due back into classrooms.

If you must travel during the storm, the VSP advises:

– Before heading out, check Virginia road conditions at www.511virginia.org or download the VDOT 511 app.

– Clear all snow and ice from the roof, trunk, hood and windows of your vehicle—car, SUV, minivan, pickup truck, commercial vehicle—before you travel.

– Use your headlights—in rain and snow. Virginia law requires headlights on when your wipers are active.

– Drive for conditions—slow your speed and increase your traveling distance between the vehicle ahead of you.

– Always buckle up.

– Avoid distractions—put down the phone.

– Do not call 911 or #77 for road conditions. Please leave these emergency lines open for emergencies only.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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