Friday, February 05, 2010

Continuous updates: Southwest Virginia grapples with another major snowstorm

At least two deaths were blamed on the continuing storm, which was forecast to bring upwards of one foot of snow and sleet to the area.

Winter weather in Southwest Virginia
Passengers load Flight 5543 en-route to Atlanta before it takes off from Roanoke Regional Airport Friday morning.

Passengers load Flight 5543 en-route to Atlanta before it takes off from Roanoke Regional Airport Friday morning. [See more photos of the early morning snow]


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Overview | Weekend event cancellations | Traffic
| 2 killed in wreck | Power outages | Flights

OVERVIEW [Updated 4:56 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5]
Find updates throughout the day below this overview.

The second big snowstorm in less than a week moved in on Southwest Virginia Friday morning, closing schools and businesses, clogging roads, grounding airlines and leading to the death of two Good Samaritans. [Read more: 2 killed after Wythe Co. wreck] Traffic was stopped cold on U.S. Route 220 southbound in Roanoke County near the Franklin County line because of a disabled vehicle, according to the Roanoke County emergency dispatch office. No one was hurt.

Roanoke is "right on the fulcrum between likely foot-plus snow areas to the north and less snow to the south," wrote Kevin Myatt, The Roanoke Times weather columnist, as the heavy, wet snow piled atop a landscape still white from last weekend's 10 to 12 inches.

[Read more on the Weather Journal blog]

Forecasters predict the storm will dump as much as two feet in parts of the Mid-Atlantic, including Washington, before it ends Saturday. Total accumulations of a foot or more are expected in the Roanoke area and points north, with less snow and more ice to the south.

Those who can should work from home, said Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“This is not a good mix,” Morris said. “Heavy, wet snow with gusting winds is going to make it a very tough storm for us. I expect visibility will be very poor in spots, and we’ll have to deal with drifting snow.”

The weather service warns that the mix of heavy snow and strong winds would make travel tonight night “very hazardous or nearly impossible.”

State officials deployed thousands of trucks and employees and hundreds of thousands of tons of salt.

Gov. McDonnell, who has been in office less than a month, declared his second snow emergency, authorizing state agencies to assist local governments. The assistance includes up to 600 National Guard soldiers and emergency response teams, stationed at with military Humvees at locations that include Abingdon, Lexington, Wytheville, Christiansburg and Charlottesville, according to the state Department of Military Affairs.

Law enforcement agencies took part in a conference call late this morning with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service.

Blacksburg police Sgt. Nathan O'Dell said they were told it looked like snow could be expected until about 1 p.m. and then the precipitation would change to sleet or ice for a few hours. He said about one-tenth of an inch of ice accretion is expected in Blacksburg, with up to one-quarter of an inch in other areas.

"That's when it's going to get bad," he said.

As for now, he said, "it's not too bad. People are staying off the roads."

He said police had gotten reports of a few stuck cars and a minor fender-bender involving a Blacksburg Transit bus, but no serious wrecks have been reported.

All of Blacksburg Police Department's four-wheel drive SUVs are being used for patrol today, he said, and the department put chains on a few of its Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars, which are rear-wheel drive.

The department also reserved some hotel rooms in town in case any of its officers are unable to make it home.

A mid-December storm brought about 20 inches in many areas. Between that and several smaller snowfalls, the region’s road crews have had plenty of practice in the past two months.

"We've gotten used to this drill so we're prepared as we'll ever be," said Ruth Richey, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County.

Check back at and follow us at throughout the day for updates, road conditions, forecasts, weather blogging and to share your photos and snowfall totals as the storm progresses.

FATAL WRECK KILLS 2 [Updated: 1:25 p.m.]

A father and son who stopped to help another driver on Interstate 81 Friday morning were struck by a tractor-trailer and killed, police said.

William Edward Smith Sr., 54, of Sylva, N.C., and William Edward Smith Jr., 25, of Mooresburg, Tenn., were killed in the weather-related crash about 12:40 a.m. near mile marker 58 in Wythe County, two miles south of the exit for Rural Retreat, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in a news release.

The chain-reaction crash started when a northbound car spun out of control and came to rest in the left northbound lane, Geller said.

Smith Jr. pulled the Dodge Caravan he was driving onto the right shoulder so one of his passengers, a nurse, could help the people in the car.

Within minutes, a northbound tractor-trailer came upon the disabled car and jack-knifed while trying to avoid hitting it, Geller said.

The tractor-trailer instead struck the Caravan, she said, killing Smith Sr., who was inside, and Smith Jr., who was standing outside. Both men died at the scene.

The nurse, whom Geller didn’t name, was helping the injured people inside the car at the time and wasn’t hurt.

No one has been charged in the crash, which remains under investigation, Geller said.

Weather also led to several miles of Interstate 77 in Carroll County becoming blocked for hours Friday morning.

Several tractor-trailers were unable to make the grade on I-77 South near mile marker 21 and became stuck about 8:50 a.m., Geller said.

About an hour later, several tractor-trailers jack-knifed near southbound mile marker 41, she said. A group of tractor-trailers also became stuck on the upgrade on I-77 North near mile marker 3.

Parts of the interstate were shut down for nearly four hours while the trucks were removed.

POWER OUTAGES [Updated: 10:05 p.m.]

As snow and ice accumulate outage numbers are growing too.

Appalachian Power Co. listed the following customer-reported outages at 10:00 p.m.:
- Bedford Co. - 306
- Campbell Co. - 491
- Carroll Co. - 791
- Franklin Co. - 1,429
- Henry Co. - 18,467
- Roanoke Co. - 130

The reported outages in Henry County represent more than 65 percent of Appalachian Power's customers in the county.

TRAFFIC [Updated: 5:56 p.m.]

U.S. 220, Roanoke County [4:56 p.m.]: Traffic has been at a standstill on U.S. 220 southbound in Roanoke County near the Franklin County line since about 3:30 p.m. A disabled vehicle has caused the delay, according to the Roanoke County emergency dispatch office. No one was hurt.

Traffic has been blocked on U.S. 220 North and South in Roanoke and Franklin Counties throughout the day due to numerous disabled tractor trailors on the highway, according to reports received by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"It's been difficult to keep traffic moving when there have been disabled vehicles, and crews can't get to them because of stand-still traffic," said VDOT spokesman Jason Bond.

Roanoke [1:52 p.m.]: Roanoke snow removal crews have shifted to an around-the-clock schedule for the rest of the weekend, said city spokeswoman Melinda Mayo.

She said that 57 trucks are clearing roads, starting with "artery" routes that receive a lot of traffic.

But "despite our best efforts, the snow is going to continue to accumulate on the streets," Mayo said.

Because of the focus on primary routes, many neighborhood streets may not see plows until after the snow stops.

In addition, a number of public buildings are closing. The city's libraries have already closed, and the Market building downtown is set to close its doors soon as well.

[Updated: 5:44 p.m.]

Regional roads: Most roads were snow-covered as the storm continues blasting Southwest Virginia, the state Department of Transportation said. Drivers should "only travel if absolutely necessary to give crews time to clear the roads," spokeswoman Heidi Underwood said in a statement.

State and contract plow crews were concentrating on interstates and primary roads, Underwood said, though those roads were mostly snow-covered as the storm continues. Many secondary roads have significant snow, she said.

"Equipment operators will continue to focus on interstate and primary roads until the snow stops and these roads are clear," Underwood said. "Then crews will begin to plow secondary roads."

Tonight, the focus will remain on these primary roads as precipitation is expected to continue.

VDOT said at nightfall that the vast majority of secondary roads (those numbered 600 and above), neighborhood streets and subdivision routes have not been plowed at all.

Here's a run-down of road conditions from VDOT:

Interstate 581 in Roanoke and Interstate 81 in Botetourt, Roanoke, Montgomery and Pulaski counties is in minor condition which means mostly clear with isolated slick spots. Interstate 77 in Carroll County is currently in minor condition with isolated slick spots.

In Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig counties, all primary roads such as U.S. 220, 221, 311, 419, and 460, are in moderate condition with snow and ice on the roadways. Most secondary roads have not been plowed at all. Traffic on U.S. 220 in Roanoke County has been delayed throughout the day due to tractor-trailers being stuck, and snow plows have had difficulty working on U.S. 220.

In Montgomery, Pulaski and Giles counties, primary roads such as Va. 8, U.S.11, Va. 100, Va. 114, U.S. 460 are to moderate condition with snow and ice on roadways. Most secondary roads have not been plowed at all.

In Carroll and Floyd counties, primary roads such as U.S.58 and U.S. 221 are in moderate condition. Roads have been plowed but remain icy with frozen moisture. Most secondary roads have not been plowed.

In Patrick and Henry counties, primary roads such as U.S. 220 and U.S. 58 are in minor condition which means they are mostly clear with isolated slick spots. Crews have made progress as snow has changed to rain. Plowing has started on some secondary roads. There are reports of down trees in these two counties.

In Bedford County, primary roads such as U.S. 460, 221, Va, 122, 43 and 24 are in moderate condition meaning they are snow covered. Most secondary roads have not been plowed and remain in severe condition.

In Franklin County, primary roads such as U.S. 220, Va. 40 and Route 122 are in moderate condition. Most secondary roads have not been plowed and remained snow covered. Traffic on 220 has been delayed throughout the day due to tractor-trailers being stuck, and snow plows have had difficulty working on 220.

[View the latest road conditions]

Roanoke: Meanwhile, snow didn't stop commuters on Roanoke's major roads, though there are fewer cars and trucks than usual for a weekday.

Snow is accumulating on neighborhood streets.

Roanoke officials are asking residents to park their cars in driveways if possible to allow plows greater access.

If not possible, and parking presently occurs on both sides of a street, park on one side of the street only (the side with odd-numbered houses).

In situations where there is not enough space to park all cars on one side of the street, do not park directly across from another car to avoid creating a bottleneck.

Around the region: Traffic on Interstates 81 and 581 is light and moving. Both are snow-covered.

Blacksburg police say the primary roads in town have been plowed and are passable

Public transportation: Valley Metro in Roanoke is on snow routes as well.

Christiansburg police say they have received several reports from drivers whose vehicles have gotten stuck as they tried to drive up hills or who have slid off the roadway into ditches.

"The roads are very bad, with even the main roads covered," Major Dalton Reid said. "The side roads have not gotten any attention as the primary roads are of biggest concern at this point."

In Rocky Mount, the town closed its government offices, and in Roanoke County, officials said government offices would close at noon.

Operators of the Smart Way bus between the Roanoke and New River valleys said they will cancel service after about 2 p.m. today at least through Saturday.

FLIGHTS [Updated: 12:18 p.m.]

According to the Roanoke Regional Airport Web site, all arrivals and departures have been cancelled for the remainder of the day today. Some Saturday flights, including a 5:30 a.m. flight to Charlotte, are still scheduled to be on time.

The airport is offering continuous updates on its Web site and on its Facebook page. They are also tweeting updates from flyROA.

At 6 a.m., many afternoon departures had already been cancelled but a handful of morning flights were still on time.

At 8 a.m., about a half dozen people milled around in the upstairs waiting area of the airport, either waiting to see that loved ones had taken off okay or waiting for word on their own flights.

Phil Wise of Roanoke stood at the window and watched as they de-iced his wife’s plane. She was heading for West Palm Beach, Fla. to see relatives. Wise said they had been watching Web sites last night to keep up with the status of her flight, but otherwise “you can only do what you can do.”

He said his wife wasn’t worried about flying, joking that “She doesn’t want to stay home and shovel.”

Her plane took off shortly after 8 a.m.

[View the latest airport delays]

Delta, United and US Airways said Thursday they would waive change fees for flights in and out of Roanoke this weekend. The airport advised checking with your airline for specific information.

In spite of the many cancellations at Roanoke Regional Airport, one flight carried the “on time” label at mid-morning -- the 12:55 p.m. trip to Orlando, Fla.

Ticket holder, Eric Kennedy, a food salesman from Garden City, sat in the airport lobby as snow fell outside. He said he has a week of NASCAR racing ahead of him at the Daytona 500. If the flight cancels, he won’t make it.

But an Allegiant Air ticket agent was telling ticket holders that as far as he knew, the flight was on.

The temperature is in the '70s in Florida today.

“It’s great,” Kennedy said. “When I get there I will be putting on shorts and flip flops.”

Weather Journal

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