winter preparedness week in Virginia
December 1-7, 2013
Governor bob mcdonnell has declared the week December 1 to 7, 2013
as winter preparedness week in Virginia. The National Weather Service
/NWS/ offices serving Virginia... in cooperation with the Virginia
department of emergency management... will send public information
statements over the NOAA weather wire service each day through Saturday
at approximately 11 am and 3 PM EST. These statements will focus on
different aspects of winter weather in the mid Atlantic region... and
preparedness actions the public should take for the upcoming winter
Today's topic - heavy snow.
Although much of the southern and eastern portions of the commonwealth
were spared a major winter storm last year... central and northern
Virginia were impacted by a major winter storm in early March. As much
as a foot and a half of snow fell... especially in the Piedmont and
The winter of 2009-10 reminded residents of the mid Atlantic region
that it can still snow heavily multiple times during the winter season.
Starting with the December 18th to 19th storm, and ending in mid
February... nearly half a dozen snowstorms affected the mid Atlantic
region. Seasonal snow totals of 50 to 70 inches were common from
portions of northern Virginia into the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas.
December 18th-19th, 2009: heavy snow began in southwest Virginia around
midday on the 18th and snows rapidly accumulated to warning levels during
the late afternoon and evening hours across much of the commonwealth west
of the Chesapeake Bay. All forms of travel were rendered extremely
difficult for several days due to this storm... and numerous vehicle
accidents were reported. Final snow totals ranged from less than 6
inches in parts of south central and interior southeast Virginia... to
over 25 inches in parts of Alleghany... Augusta... Highland... Rockbridge...
Montgomery... and Bath counties. Much of northern Virginia received 16 to
20 inches of snow. This was the biggest snowstorm to affect western
Virginia since the January 6-8, 1996 storm. Several stations set December
single-storm snowfall records from this storm including Roanoke and
For the first time in 6 years... a major snowstorm struck the mid
Atlantic region on March 1-2 2009. In some areas of central
Virginia... nearly a foot of snow fell. However... a strong March sun
melted much of the snow off the roads within a few hours of the end
of the storm... and minimized the storm's impact on the commonwealth.
Previously... the last major snowstorm to strike Virginia occurred from
late on February 14th through the morning hours on February 18th, 2003.
Three rounds of precipitation resulted in 20 to 36 inches of snow across
far northern Virginia... decreasing to between 7 and 12 inches of snow
and sleet in the central part of the state... to mainly several inches of
sleet and/or 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice accretion in the south. A 24 hour
snowfall of 16.7 inches at Ronald Reagan National Airport... was the
5th highest on record. Charlottesville recorded almost 9 inches of
sleet from the storm.
Another major snowstorm affected the commonwealth on January 24th and
25th 2000. Snow began along the Virginia/North Carolina border late on
the 24th and then spread north across the remainder of central and
eastern Virginia. Total snowfall in excess of 6 inches generally
occurred east of a line from Winchester to Charlottesville to Lynchburg
to Danville. Snowfall totals up to 15 to 19 inches occurred from
Fauquier County southeast to New Kent County and then southwest into
Mecklenburg County. There was a sharp western edge to the snow with no
snow reported mainly west of a line from Harrisonburg to Bedford to
Martinsville. In much of south-central and southeastern Virginia... this
was the first major snowfall since January 6th and 7th 1996.
Storm systems intensifying rapidly along the eastern Seaboard during
the colder months of the year are usually responsible for producing
most of the heavy snows in Virginia. These systems, called
nor'easters, can also produce strong winds which may result in
blizzard conditions and huge snow drifts.
Heavy snow tends to occur 100 to 150 miles to the northwest of the
track of the surface low. Snow amounts well in excess of 30 inches
have occurred with nor'easters in Virginia. In addition... strong
winds and very cold temperatures in this same area can result in
blizzard or near blizzard conditions... dangerous wind chill
values... and have resulted in snow drifts up to 12 feet high.
The exact track the surface low pressure takes and how much cold air
is in place ahead of the system... determines if and where heavy snow
will occur. Given that cold air is in place... a surface low that
travels a hundred miles or so off the coast can produce some snow in
the central portion of the state... with the potential for heavy snow
confined to the eastern portions of the state. If the surface low
travels along the coast or slightly inland... heavy snow is most
likely in the northwestern one-third of Virginia.
If the amount of cold air in place is marginal for snow... it is
possible that heavy wet snow could occur in the higher elevations
with just a cold rain in the lower elevations.
Heavy snow is capable of bringing down tree limbs and power lines
which may result in power outages. In rare instances... heavy snow
may result in the collapse of roofs of buildings and homes.
In addition... heavy snow may result in snow covered or ice covered
roads. This typically leads to vehicle accidents and potentially
major traffic jams. If there is enough heavy snow and/or wind...
some roads may be closed and other roads may only be successfully
traversed by 4 wheel drive vehicles.
The following is a summary of historic snowstorms in Virginia.
February 14-18 2003 - 7 to 36 inches of snow across central and
northern Virginia (highest far north)... significant ice southern
January 24-25 2000- 6 to 19 inches of snow across much of central
and eastern Virginia.
January 6-7 1996 - 12 to 30 inches of snow in much of western...
central... and northern Virginia. A few locations in the mountains
received over 3 feet of snow. Twenty four hour snowfall records were
established at Roanoke and Lynchburg. In Virginia... there was one
fatality directly attributed to the storm. In the mountains...
strong winds on January 8th created snow drifts up to 10 feet high.
March 12-15 1993 - 20 to 30 inches of snow with some amounts over 3
feet in the mountains. In the foothills... 10 to 18 inches of snow
fell. In Virginia... there was one fatality directly attributed to
the storm. In the mountains... strong winds up to 50 mph whipped
drifts up to 12 feet high and created near blizzard conditions.
February 10-12 1983 - 10 to 20 inches of snow in a large portion of
Virginia with up to 30 inches of snow in northern portions of the
state. The storm established 24 hour snowfall records at Roanoke...
Lynchburg... and Richmond.
March 1-2 1980 - a true blizzard in portions of southeastern Virginia
with 12 to 20 inches of snow. Strong winds resulted in snow drifts
up to 8 feet high.
February 18-19 1979 - this storm known as "the presidents day storm"
dumped 6 to 15 inches of snow in much of Virginia with up to 20
inches of snow in northern portions of the state. Nearly 12 inches of
snow occurred in Richmond with 8 inches in Norfolk.
March 5-8 1962 - 10 to 24 inches of snow in many interior portions
Being prepared means making good decisions based on information
contained in outlooks... watches... warnings... advisories... other
statements and forecasts from the National Weather Service. The key
is to know what to do in advance. If a winter storm like what
occurred in 1993 or 1996 was predicted to hit Virginia in two
days... what would you do between now and when the storm arrives to
get ready? You should make sure you have enough food... water and
medication for several days. You also need to be prepared for the
loss of power and/or heat. More on winter preparedness for the home
in friday's statement.
Below is a link to the NOAA winter outlook for 2013-14.
Additional information on winter weather preparedness can be
obtained on-line through the Virginia department of emergency
management home Page. The url is (in lower case):
In addition... the ready Virginia and ready North Carolina web
sites haves been developed to aid virginians and north carolinians
in their overall disaster preparedness. The urls are:
http://www.Vaemergency.Gov/readyvirginia /English version/
http://www.Vaemergency.Gov/listovirginia /Spanish version/
http://readync.Org/ /English version/
http://listonc.Org/ /Spanish version/
Up-to-date weather information is also available on-line from the
following National Weather Service sites (all urls in lower case):
NWS Wakefield - http://www.Erh.NOAA.Gov/er/akq
NWS Sterling - http://www.Erh.NOAA.Gov/er/lwx
NWS Blacksburg - http://www.Erh.NOAA.Gov/er/rnk
NWS Charleston WV - http://www.Erh.NOAA.Gov/er/rlx
NWS Morristown TN - http://weather.Gov/mrx
NWS Raleigh NC - http://www.Erh.NOAA.Gov/er/rah
National Weather Service winter weather awareness home Page -
warning coordination meteorologist
NOAA/National Weather Service