UPDATE: 2:15 p.m.:
Central Virginia roads are snow covered, slushy and slippery from the main arteries to the interstates, according to Virginia Department of Transportation officials and the agency’s website.
Crashes currently close some traffic lanes along Interstate 64 between Afton Mountain and Louisa County, including one eastbound just after the Ivy exit that has blocked the left lane.
"Virginia State Police troopers have responded to 142 traffic crashes and 162 disabled vehicles since 12:01 a.m. Sunday," 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."
Lou Hatter, of VDOT, said travel is expected to only get worse.
"The snow is forecast to change to freezing rain late Sunday afternoon or early evening, coupled with high winds, which could result in downed trees and power lines," he said. "After that, bitterly cold temperatures will result in a refreeze, exacerbating dangerous conditions overnight into Monday morning."
The flakes are moving into Charlottesville and Central Virginia as the second winter storm in two weeks rolls through the region with possible periods of near-blizzard conditions as bands of heavy snowfall meet gusty winds and even ice.
The storm is similar to one that struck the area Jan. 3, toppling thousands of trees, snapping power lines and poles and leaving tens of thousands without power for several days.
That means roads will likely be snow covered, slick and slippery for most of the afternoon and into the evening.
“This is expected to be an all-day event, bringing snow, freezing rain, ice, then ending with even more snow,” said Len Stevens, of the Virginia Department of Transportation. “We also expect winds to pick up this evening and into tomorrow morning, enhancing the risk for downed trees and power lines. Motorists are urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.”
The window for preparations for today’s winter storm has closed. Snow is falling across much of Piedmont Virginia and travel is expected to become extremely hazardous Sunday afternoon, evening and overnight. The Virginia Department of Transportation urges drivers to stay off the roads.
Lou Hatter, also of VDOT, said regional road crews pretreated roads and that 650 pieces of equipment are standing by.
“Crews are mobilized to plow and treat interstates and primary roads first, then shift to secondary roads and neighborhoods,” Hatter said. “They will work around the clock, so if you must travel, watch for heavy equipment moving through the area, and crews removing debris from roads.”
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for most of Central Virginia from the mountains to Interstate 95. The heaviest amounts of snow are expected to fall from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Interstate 81 east to Interstate 95.
The puts a big target on the backs of Central Virginians, again.
“The snow is forecast to change to freezing rain late Sunday afternoon or early evening, coupled with high winds, which could result in downed trees and power lines,” weather service meteorologists warn. “After that, bitterly cold temperatures will result in a refreeze, exacerbating dangerous conditions overnight into Monday morning.”
Exactly how much snow may be expected 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 are predicting four to six inches with about a tenth of an inch of ice.
Winds could gust as high as 40 mph and some snow bands could drop between one and three inches in an hour. That would create near-blizzard conditions, reduce visibility and drift over roads, making them nearly impassable.
City of Charlottesville road crews will begin plowing Sunday evening, having already pretreated the roads Saturday night. 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.
To add insult to the region’s injury, the snow could make command repeat performance next weekend, according to the weather service.
“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.”