NWS: Williamsburg is snowfall epicenter

A foot of snow in Williamsburg is unusual, but not unheard of.

Between the first flakes Friday night to late afternoon Saturday, 12.5 inches of snow blanketed Williamsburg — the largest amount recorded throughout Virginia — after a winter storm swept through large portions of the state.

The storm's toll on the area persists into this week. While main thruways are clear, neighborhood streets are still slick with slush and ice. Businesses and government offices were closed Monday and Williamsburg-James City County and York County schools are closed again Wednesday.

The 12.5 inches accumulated in one day is 3.5 inches more than Williamsburg normally averages for a year.

But it wasn't a record. January 1966 collected 19 inches, the most accumulated in a single month in Williamsburg, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Rusnak said rain is much more common in the area during winter; temperatures generally don't drop enough to turn precipitation to snow.

That's what was different about the weekend storm, he said.

If the same amount of precipitation had fallen as rain, Rusnak said it would have amounted to around 1.5 inches — a very normal amount considering the area's average is 3.65 inches in January.

Rusnak said rain will fall this weekend and warmer temperatures, as high as 65 degrees, will persist through the end of the week.

"What rain we expect will be light," Rusnak said. "It will help to wash the stuff off the road a bit."

Roads stay slick

Drivers were repeatedly warned about dangerous roads over the weekend by the state police and Virginia Department of Transportation. Concerns prevailed into the week, causing school and office closures through Wednesday.

Blizzard-like conditions developed in some areas of the Peninsula Saturday, restricting visibility, but the primary concern was slick surfaces, according to numerous VDOT and state police news releases over the weekend.

According to one Virginia State Police news release, between midnight Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday, troopers responded to 520 calls of disabled vehicles across the Chesapeake division, which includes Hampton Roads. They responded to 162 car crashes in that area, none of which were fatal.

Williamsburg police reported a few stuck and stalled cars over the weekend, but nothing serious. JCC police encountered the same, according to spokeswoman Renee Dallman.

"We didn't have any road-related issues, so everybody in the city was driving fairly cautiously and responsibly," police department spokesman Maj. Greg Riley said. "It is a little surprising, but I'm happy to be able to report that."

Williamsburg spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartman said the city's fire department didn't respond to any weather-related calls, either fires or for medical assistance, between Saturday and Tuesday. Dallman's report on JCC's fire and rescue services was identical.

York County Fire Chief Stephen Kopczynski said his crews did respond to a few car crashes and snow related-medical calls, but nothing major.

"I think that speaks so highly of the community for heeding the advice, taking things seriously, staying inside and being safe," Hartman said. "It says a lot for the community."

Hartman said the city had five trucks, loaded with 500 tons of salt and sand working the roads over the weekend. Public works crews pushed through 12-hour shifts from 11 p.m. Friday to 11 p.m. Monday.

Trucks will still be out and about until all roads are clear, Hartman said. She didn't have an estimate for when that would be, saying it depends "a lot on Mother Nature."

"Our public works crew are the ones that clear all the roads, not just the primary, but secondary and neighborhoods as well," Hartman said. "They wanted to get the main arteries cleared first to get emergency vehicles to where needed to go if needed to go out."

Though a majority of roads have been plowed and treated, patches of slush and ice persist, she said. She cautioned drivers to be particularly wary of shaded areas on the road, which will be slower to melt.

James City and York counties rely on VDOT to plow their roads. Neither the city nor the counties take on responsibility of privately owned roads, such as those in many subdivisions and gated communities, unless contracted to do so.

VDOT spokeswoman Paula Miller said 50 percent of primary and secondary roads were completely clear by Monday night, and 90 percent of subdivisions had been plowed and treated, or at least treated.

"Once the temperature can get above 20 degrees, then the salt will start working to break up that compacted ice and plows can get at it," Miller said.

JCC county supervisor Brian Hill said he though VDOT had done a good job. The main roads are clear and neighborhood subdivisions are being worked on, he said. People driving on the roads, packing the snow down before VDOT crews could plow was a problem, he said.

He wouldn't estimate when he expects all streets to be clear, but said the higher temperatures later in the week would help.

Tuesday was the first time the temperature eclipsed 32 degrees, and it is expected to keep rising through the week, Rusnak said. Wednesday's high will be close to 49 degrees and Thursday could be as warm as 65.

Snow days

Conditions on neighborhood roads are why schools are closed for students through Wednesday, Williamsburg-James City County spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said.

York County Schools are also closed Wednesday and 12-month employees in both districts started work again on a two-hour delay Wednesday. Walsingham Academy is on a two-hour delay Wednesday.

"We could have all of our lots ready to go, and are working toward that, but we still have neighborhood roads that are still untouched, many of which are in shaded areas," Overkamp-Smith said. "We can't have buses going into neighborhoods where the roads are slick sheets of ice and snow."

Overkamp-Smith said crews were plowing school parking lots and shoveling sidewalks through Tuesday while other officials drove the neighborhoods, to assess road conditions.

Although prolonged closures could mean make-up days will be needed in the future, students are taking advantage of their time off now.

Devyn Tomala, 12, spent Monday sledding with his younger brother, 9-year-old Jovanny, and two friends, 10-year-old Jaydon Hampton and 8-year-old Jordon.

"We've been playing in the snow a lot," Devyn said. "If the snow is starting to melt we'll probably go sledding again."

Sometimes they'd use the sleds as snowboards, carefully trying to balance on their sleds, sometimes successfully making it all the way down the hill at D.J. Montague Elementary School.

Although missing school is their favorite part of snow days, Devyn Tomala said sledding and Jaydon Hampton said snowboarding were both high on their lists.

"We don't get this so often so they've just been enjoying every single minute of it," Laura Tomala, Devyn and Jovanny's mom, said as she watched them speed down the hill, racing each other to the finish line denoted by a small snowman, carrot nose and all.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

NOAA: Historical snowfall

Williamsburg has seen more than 12.5 inches of snow in one month just three times since 1949:

•19 inches in January 1966.

•16 inches in February 1966.

•14 inches in January 1980.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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