Historic Triangle preps for winter's first significant snowfall

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

The first significant snow of this winter season is barreling down on the Historic Triangle, making it a good weekend to stay home. 

The National Weather Service predicts 6-8 inches of snow will fall on the Historic Triangle beginning late Friday and lasting through most of Saturday.

The snow is expected to hamper travel throughout coastal Virginia all weekend. And temperatures will remain in the 20s and 30s through Sunday, leaving little chance for the snow to melt before the workweek returns Monday.

Wind gusts are expected to intensify up to 35 mph on the backside of the storm, said Scott Schumann, of the National Weather Service's Wakefield office.

"It's a storm that's going to intensify as it comes up the coast ... ," he said. "That wind will start to howl on the backside of this storm."

Heavier snowfall totals are expected to fall farther south into Hampton Roads and the North Carolina border as a front pushes northward, according to the National Weather Service.

A blizzard warning is in effect for Hampton, Poquoson, Norfolk and Virginia Beach until 10 p.m. Saturday because the combination of snow and wind could create near-whiteout conditions, according to the weather service.

The Richmond metro area is expected to see closer to 4-6 inches, according to the weather service.

"This isn't an unusual system," Schumann said. "It's not a classic superstorm, but it will dump a good amount of snow on the area."

Treacherous travel

State and local public works crews will maintain roads throughout the weekend.

Williamsburg Public Works employees plan to work 12-hour shifts this weekend to plow every city street, city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said.

"We plow every inch of those nine square miles within the city," she said.

During the storm's height, city crews may need to focus on clearing primary and secondary streets and hold off on lesser-traveled residential streets, she said.

VDOT is responsible for plowing public roads within James City and York counties. The state started pre-treating roadways in the Hampton Roads region — which includes the Peninsula and Southside cities — to help prevent icing, according to a news release.

VDOT has close to 550 pieces of equipment in our region that are ready to respond to the storm.

"If people aren't sure about who to contact if their roads aren't plowed, I can certainly be an advocate for them," James City County administrator Bryan Hill said. "If they call me (253-6602) or email me (bryan.hill@jamescitycountyva.gov), I'll know who to call or how to contact them to make sure any issues are addressed."

Hill said he will try to deploy personnel on Sunday to clear parking lots and sidewalks around county facilities and schools so those buildings can open Monday.

"If I can get out there Sunday, then we're clearing empty parking lots, instead of having to go around cars," said Hill, who urged residents to stay home and off the roads both during the storm and afterward while crews are working.

Residents unsure about whether state or city plows will come down their road can simply look to their tax bill for guidance: people who pay taxes to the city receive city services, regardless of whether they have a Williamsburg mailing address. A private contractor may be in charge of clearing private roads and entrances for people who live in private communities and apartment complexes.

"We're stocked up and ready to go," Hartmann said.

For residents who consider the cold and snow a dangerous situation, help might be a bus ride away. Free warming shelters are set up throughout James City County and Williamsburg.

Snow can complicate use of the warming shelters, which is something Kathleen Hale, James City County coordinator of emergency management will remain wary of as winter wears on.

"One thing that could affect that is how heavy the snow is coming down, and how quickly (workers) can get out to it," Hale said. "Usually they're up early and it's not an issue. Otherwise, the county will make (a point) to get information out."

An important take-away from officials: Call ahead to your destination before you leave home. Stores, offices and attractions may have made last-minute decisions to close.

Colonial Williamsburg is already in its seasonal shutdown, although carriage rides may not be available if streets become hazardous, spokesman Joe Straw said.

Anyone who wants to skate at Liberty's Ice Pavilion should call 855-296-6627 ahead of time to check if it's still open.

A week preparing

Lin Bell, a dairy clerk at the Richmond Road Food Lion, was bracing for a storm both inside (in the form of customers) and outside the store.

"It started a little earlier this week," he said of shoppers grabbing supplies. "In the mornings, you'll see retirees and some older folks. Once the workday ends, people made a beeline for this store, trying to find adult beverages and all that."

Bell said in the grocery industry, the concept is called a "snow scare." Food Lion staff expect to see milk, bread and water fly off their shelves.

"Sometimes it'll even effect the toilet paper and pet food," he said. "That just depends on the severity of the storm."

You see just a little bit of panic so people end up in here," Bell said. "We would have had a busier spike anyway, because it's Friday and the end of the work week. The storm coming just adds to it."

Victor Martinez, a customer associate at the Walmart on East Rochambeau Drive, said the saw substantially more people on Friday afternoon than usual.

"They've been buying propane, snow plows, ice melt, you name it," he said. "We're almost out of ice scrapers too."

Though he noticed an uptick in patrons, Martinez himself does not necessarily plan on buying too much heading into the weekend.

The main change he makes when snow hits the area is a logistical one.

"My girlfriend, her car sits a little higher off the ground than mine does," he said. "Once winter comes, we don't use mine nearly as much."

Charles Johnson was unfazed by the impending snow while shopping in Walmart on Friday.

"I'm not really preparing too much," he said. "I really don't think it'll be that bad."

He makes sure his vehicle is ready to move in case of an emergency, but he doesn't feel like this weekend could turn into one.

"We've had some bad snows out here," he said. "I didn't think this one will be that big of a deal."

Kevin Deaver owns Ace Peninsula Hardware on Richmond Road where shoppers have been buying snow shovels, ice melt and sleds since Tuesday.

"In '98 or '99 we had some bad snowstorms," said Deaver, who recalled that 2003 had been a snowy year as well. "We had maybe three snowstorms in the span of a month. This part of Virginia isn't used to getting that much snow."

Ice storms are what really concern Deaver because of the havoc they can wreak on the area.

"What happens is the rain or snow falls into trees and it freezes, then the trees fall and break," he said. "They bring down power lines, and now you don't have any power."

Lighter snowfall is easier to handle, Deaver said. "It's a little more fun for people."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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During the storm

Where to stay warm (call ahead of time)

Quarterpath Recreation Center, 202 Quarterpath Road, Williamsburg, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 1-8 p.m. Sunday.

Williamsburg Library, 515 Scotland St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

New Town United Methodist Church, 5209 Moticello Ave. (overnight shelter)

James City County Library, 7770 Croaker Road, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

James City County Recreation Center, 5301 Longhill Road, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 1-6 p.m. Sunday.

Emergency numbers

Williamsburg Emergency Operations Center: 757-259-7200

York County Fire and Life Safety: 757-890-3621

James City County Emergency Management: 757-564-2140

Williamsburg police, non-emergency: 757-220-2331

James City County Police, non-emergency: 757-253-1800

York County Police, non-emergency: 757-890-3630

Tips: If the power goes out

Report the outage to your local provider, Dominion: 1-866-366-4357.

Use flashlights instead of candles to reduce fire hazards.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as long as possible.

Keep layers of clothing available if it starts to get cold in your home.

Do not try to heat your home with your oven.

Do not operate grills or generators close to your home.

Source: Department of Homeland Security.

If you need to leave your home:

Make sure your car is free and clear of snow.

Ensure your tires have tread. If they're bald, you may lose control.

Before you leave, make sure to pack an emergency bag including a window scraper, flashlight, cell phone charger, bottled water, a blanket and a snack.

Give yourself plenty of room to brake before stopping and reduce your speed.

Sources: State police and AAA Tidewater Virginia

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