Blizzard warning issued for cities on Peninsula

Daily Press staff

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for parts of Hampton Roads, according to its latest weather alert. 

Areas included in the blizzard warning include Hampton, Poquoson, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the weather agency reported. 

A blizzard warning means the area could have periods of high winds and heavy snow creating whiteout conditions with low visibility. 

Forecasts show some sleet will be mixed in with the snow over Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. 

Snow predictions are still between eight and 12 inches, but could be as much as 15 inches in some areas of Hampton Roads, the weather service said. 

Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, and Virginia National Guard soldiers will be in the region to help facilitate a multi-agency response, according to a news release from the Virginia National Guard. 200 soldiers with Humvees, tactical trucks and chainsaws will be in the area Friday, assisting local police and emergency services Saturday morning, the release said. 

The light/medium tactical trucks and Humvees will help transport first responders through heavy snow, or help people looking for shelter evacuate, the release said. The chainsaws will help remove debris in the road. 

According to VDOT, 70 percent of snow-related deaths happen in cars, and drivers are encouraged to stay off the roads. VDOT has pre-treated roads, but warned drivers that roads will still be slick and potentially dangerous after snow falls. 

As of 6 p.m., the City of Virginia Beach declared a state of emergency, according to a news release. 

2:45 p.m. - Hampton Roads will receive three VDOT Tiger Teams from across the state to assist with snow operations over the next few days, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Twenty-three VDOT trucks and 44 contractor trucks from Staunton, Salem, Culpeper and Northern Virginia are headed to Hampton Roads to assist the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk and Portsmouth, a news release states.

There were requests for 68 trucks for Hampton Roads’ cities through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and all were approved, the state transportation agency reports.

Today, the VDOT Hampton Roads District declared a State of Emergency in the District which allows VDOT to mobilize personnel and equipment for the duration of the winter storm.

2 p.m. - Newport News street maintenance crews mounted nine sand spreaders, 20 snow plows and three anti-icing unitson trucks to prepare for winter storm Helena, city spokeswoman Anita Walters said in an e-mail.

Crews started pre-treating priority routes like Jefferson Avenue and Warwick Blvd, as well as throughout the city with brine.

Heavy snow is expected overnight tonight and crews will be ready to respond with sand spreaders and snow plows, Walters said.

Priority one and two streets are listed in the City’s Snow Removal Plan.

10 a.m. - With as much as a foot of snow possible this weekend, Hampton city officials encouraged residents to stay safe and avoid unnecessary travel Saturday and Sunday, according to its website.

Temperatures are expected to stay below freezing Saturday through Monday, the city release says. 

Saturday’s winds will be about 20 mph, with gusts reaching 30-35 mph at times, creating poor visibility with blowing snow, city officials said.

Snow is expected to begin around midnight Friday, with heavy winds and go into Saturday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

5:24 a.m. - The National Weather Service is now predicting the Peninsula area could get 8 to 12 inches snow between Friday and Saturday. 

The weather service issued a Winter Storm Warning Friday morning replacing a watch issued Thursday.

"Travel will be dangerous on Saturday along with spotty power outages along the coast where near-blizzard conditions are possible," the weather service's Wakefield office said on social media. 

A winter storm warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and/or ice are expected or occurring, according to the weather service. A watch means the conditions are favorable. 

Previously: 4:45 a.m. Friday

Two days out from the possible first Peninsula snow of the winter season, the crews responsible for clearing area roadways were planning for the worst. That doesn't necessarily mean they expect a cataclysmic snowfall that freezes the area under a blanket of snow and ice; it just means they're ready for anything.

"It's better safe than sorry," said Jason Calbert, an administrator for the street maintenance division of Newport News' public works department. Calbert's crew spent much of Wednesday and Thursday making sure the city's 25 plows, 3,000 tons of salt and 10,000 gallons of brine were ready to go.

Friday morning's forecasts indicated Calbert's crew will have to clear a predicted snowfall of 6 to 10 inches from the roads of Newport News this weekend.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for Hampton Road Friday morning. The warning begins Friday at 10 p.m. and extends until 10 p.m. Saturday.

The bulk of snowfall is expected to happen Saturday morning and early afternoon, ending around sundown, according to Lyle Alexander, a meterologist at the NWS Wakefield office

On Thursday afternoon, Alexander predicted 6 to 9 inches of snow throughout most of Hampton Roads. "It's looking pretty big," he said.

On Wednesday, Alexander said projections showed about 3 to 5 inches and said there was still uncertainty in that forecast. The difference between the Wednesday and Thursday predictions mainly came because of a upper-level system, high in the atmosphere. Alexander said the system was over the Pacific Wednesday and added that the weather service was able to get a better read on it once it moved over land Thursday. The system is expected to draw in more moisture than previously thought, fueling snowfall from the low-pressure system that will bring the winter storm up to Hampton Roads.

"We have to get all the elements together to get a complete prediction," Alexander said. He added that at this point, he's somewhat confident in the prediction and doesn't expect any big changes.

Starting this morning, Calbert said his crew is working12-hour shifts. They will begin treating roads with salt and brine this morning because of the forecast for a rainy Thursday evening. "The rain would wash anything we put down away," Calbert explained on Thursday morning.

Once snow hits the ground, the drivers of plows, brine sprayers and sand spreaders all have designated routes to travel. Roads are plowed in order of priority, Calbert said. Bridges and overpasses are top priority, followed by main traffic arteries, such as J. Clyde Morris and Denbigh boulevards, and emergency service buildings and hospitals. Then, the trucks will plow connecting roads. Calbert said the city does not clear residential areas or interstates.

Hampton also expects to begin treating its roads on Friday morning, according to the city web site. Its public works department has 1,400 tons of salt, 15,000 gallons of brine and 5,000 gallons of calcium chloride on hand, which the city says should be more than enough for the expected snowfall.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for interstates and all other roads maintained by the state. VDOT spokesman Dave Forster said routes on the national highway system receive top priority, followed by primary interstates and major secondary roads connected to emergency and public facilities. "Common sense dictates that roads carrying the most traffic get top priority," the VDOT website states.

Forster said contractors clear the snow on interstate highways. VDOT's Hampton Roads district has 159 pieces of equipment, including trucks, loaders and motor graders, to use in response to winter weather. Forster said VDOT's goal is to have all roads passable 48 hours after the storm ends.

In Poquoson, the city's small fleet of two plows is gearing up as well. City Manager Randy Wheeler said the city's public works department is responsible for all of Poquoson's roads. The first roads cleared are the main arteries: Victory Boulevard, Little Florida Road, Wythe Creek Road and Poquoson Avenue, Wheeler said. Then the plows will pass side streets and connecting roads.

Wheeler said the city's 19 public works employees all have a role in response to snow, and they also work closely with the police and fire staff. Early Thursday afternoon, Wheeler said the city was still waiting for a briefing from NWS to see if it would pre-treat roads.

During his preparations, Calbert admitted plowing snow in 12-hour shifts isn't always fun. "Any time you're out in an element like that, it's cold," he said. "But we like doing it, knowing we're helping the citizens."

Some snow is expected to fall Friday night, but it's not expected to stick or accumulate significantly. However, Saturday's snowfall should stick around, probably at least until Monday, because of the cold temperatures, Alexander said.

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