Blizzard warning in effect for most of Southside Hampton Roads

WAVY Super Doppler 10

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The first snowfall of 2018 is expected to start Wednesday night and go into Thursday morning for most of the area.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for most of Southside Hampton Roads: Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Much of the rest of the viewing area — including northeast North Carolina — remains under a winter storm warning.

Some models show accumulation totals between 8 and 10 inches in the heart of Hampton Roads. Other areas are forecast to get between 5 and 7 inches of snowfall.

The snow has prompted many school districts across the area to close Thursday. More closures are expected with the snow on the way.

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Crews with the Virginia Department of Transportation have been preparing for this exact scenario since late last year. VDOT has 469 pieces of equipment and several tons of salt, sand and brine ready for snow removal in Hampton Roads. VDOT says crews and equipment from other parts of the state will also head to Hampton Roads to help.

The winter storm is expected to cover the region with snow from northeast North Carolina on up to the Eastern Shore and Northern Neck.

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VDOT says if 2 inches of snow falls, it will take one day to clear the highways — and two days if between 4 to 6 inches accumulates.

On the Southside 

Crews started working around the clock on Wednesday pre-treating bridges and overpasses.

“I told the crew not too long ago, this where we shine,” said Peter Garner from Norfolk Public Works. “This is where the city is looking for us to do our job, to get the streets clear so emergency vehicles can get through, so people can get to their jobs. This is where we make our money.”

Gallery: Crews prepare for first snow of 2018

“We know we can handle the snow,” Garner added. “It’s just at night time when it gets into the teens there isn’t a whole lot of plowing we could do, because everything freezes so hard.”

Crews will focus on primary roads followed by some secondaries.

“We’ve had sub-freezing temperatures for several days, so even if it is raining the roads are going to get slick,” said Drew Lankford with Virginia Beach Public Works. “If people don’t need to be out, don’t go out. If you do, try to give these trucks a lot of space, because they are slinging a lot of materials.”

Crews tell 10 On Your Side they can only plow the roads after about two inches of snow has fallen. Anything less and they are just tearing up the road and equipment.

“The best thing people can do is stay off the roads and let the plows have entire access to the roads,” Garner added.

Many Virginia Beach residents stocked up on supplies on Wednesday.

“I got all kinds of goodies,” said Craig Harrison of Virginia Beach. “I’m picking up some stuff from my kids. They are going to be snowed in too.”

At the Food Lion near Little Creek, staff couldn’t keep bread, milk and water on the shelves.

“We had a couple customers that are very concerned,” store manager Austin Amsden added. “They are worried about losing power.”

Customers aren’t sure what Mother Nature will bring, but don’t want to take any chances.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this area, because of all the water around here,” said resident Bob Brown. “They predict one thing and it turns into another.”

Down the road at Taylor’s Do it – Marina Shores, shovels were in high demand.

“It’s been pretty crazy of course,” said manager Louis Barbour. “Everybody is out looking for last minute bags of salt, shelves and scrapers.”

200 shovels were purchased on just Wednesday alone at Taylor’s Do it . Some shoppers got lucky to find some bags of salt, which was just delivered.

“I always try to tell people try to get the rock salt and supplies earlier when they say it is going to snow,” Barbour added. “Try not to wait until the last minute.”

Norfolk officials say starting Wednesday at five, parking in metered spots in downtown will not be allowed. This is to give the plows room to operate.

The city will open the Boush St. Garage (112 West City Hall Avenue) and York St. Garage (215 W. York Street) Wednesday to give residents a place to move their vehicles. Anyone parking in a garage should plan on removing their vehicle by 10 a.m. Friday.

It is the calm before the storm, but this calm has crews preparing for what lies ahead.

“This is about as calm as it’s going to be for the next 72 hours,” Lankford said.

On the Peninsula 

Reporter Andy Fox reported from the Peninsula all day Wednesday.

He went to Newport News Public Works Operation Center off Jefferson Avenue and spoke with Jason Calbert, a street maintenance Administrator for the city.

He explained the importance of brine in making roads better for you. The salt mixture solution is spread on roadways and helps prevent roads from freezing up, and helps keep snow from sticking.

“We started applying brine throughout the streets…and will continue the brine operation throughout the day today,” Calbert said.

On top of the brine, they drop salt that melts the ice and snow, and sand provides traction. “Tonight we will continue to have crews overnight and throughout the evening on 12 hour shifts and will be able to respond with sand spreaders and snow plows as needed,” Calbert said.

In Newport News, 70 people will split two shifts with 35 people each. They have 25 plows, 9 sand trucks and 3 brine units.

Over in Hampton it’s the same dance, and lots of meetings just like in Newport News.

Hampton Spokesperson Robin McCormick, “The City Manager is meeting in the operations center and is going to open that at (6 p.m. Wednesday). We need to make sure that we are in touch with all city departments and see what is going on throughout the city.”

In Hampton, there are nonstop preps for a snow storm that will likely pack a punch so hard it could bring the region to its knees.

Hampton is on guard and McCormick tells us, “that snow fall total keeps growing. We are trying to figure out how to cope, and the additional cold temperatures are going to cause additional problems that we don’t have with a normal snowfall.”

Hampton leadership knows this won’t be a normal snow fall, far from normal, and could be the worst in recent history. The 70 truck Hampton fleet is ready to roll, and to work through the night and through Thursday.

Northeast North Carolina 

The North Carolina Department of Transportation says 345 workers and more than 100 truckers spent the past two days brining main roads.

A public information officer with NCDOT says they have 5,000 tons of salt in their inventory.

Public utility workers for Elizabeth City also spent Wednesday morning brining roads.

“Even though we’re treating the streets, it’s not going to be 100 percent effective. If this is as large of a storm as they’re predicting, our material will quickly get inundated by the snow. Everyone should stay in until we get other items taken care of. Give it the chance to melt,” said Joseph Pearce, the director of the department.

Pearce says his crews have 50 tons of sand and 20 tons of salt to deal with bridges and problem areas.

He’s hoping residents won’t have to drive on them.

“Stay off the roads. Stay home. Stay comfortable. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way unless necessary,” Pearce said.

Christy Saunders, who is the coordinator of Emergency Management for Pasquotank,Camden and Elizabeth City, agrees and knows that some will have to be out in the storm.

She’s warning them about the dangers.

“We do know there are people that have to go to work and if you do, please drive very slowly and safely,” she said.

Pearce also wants those who need to be out on the roads to watch for emergency responders.

He asks that drivers avoid them, give them safe passage on the left hand side, or move over.

“Whether it’s utility workers, police, or fire, they’re in a dangerous situation. They’re in a slick situation. If you start sliding, it’s easy for you to cause harm to our staff,” he said.

Pearce says their primary concern is ice, but once snow falls, they’ll either remove it or work with private contractors.

The city does not have plows, but NCDOT does.

They are bringing in eight extra trucks from Division 7.

Four will be stationed in Williamston and four in Elizabeth City.

Elsewhere around the viewing area

On Tuesday, Kegotank Elementary in northern Accomack County closed early after losing heat in the building.

An issue with a boiler at Mathews High School caused some of the school’s rooms to be cooler than usual.

A spokesperson with Newport News Public Schools said Tuesday students at a couple of schools had to be moved to warmer classrooms. The heat was turned down over the holidays, and some of the boilers had to be jump started — making it take longer to heat-up the buildings.

Temperatures also caused some waterways in the area to freeze over the past few days. Viewer Nichole Sampson captured an image of a partially frozen York River, off Colonial Parkway, early Tuesday morning.

Credit: Nichole Sampson

The frigid temperatures are paving the way for potentially dangerous conditions. Rain under those temperatures on Wednesday could create a sheet of ice — and more difficulties for crews patrolling the roads in Virginia Beach.

“That’s gonna make things tougher. If the forecast holds out … and the temperatures we got, the roads are going to be a real issue,” Lankford said.

Temperatures could get above freezing Wednesday before any snowfall happens. The area could see a wintry mix at first on Wednesday, with more snow expected late Wednesday into Thursday morning.

Stay tuned with WAVY News 10 and for updates on this winter system.