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WEATHER

Snow begins to fall, expected to intensify by evening

McAuliffe urges preparation, declares state of emergency

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4:31

More than a third of Richmond International Airport's flights today have been cancelled in the face of the winter storm moving across the eastern U.S.

Airline flight cancellations today at RIC reached 53 this afternoon, and another 70 are cancelled for Thursday, according to airport spokesman Troy Bell.

"For tomorrow, (((Thursday))) the cancellation list is longer than the 'on schedule' list," Bell said.

-- Peter Bacque

4:15 p.m.

Snow has begun to fall across parts of the Richmond area.

The latest National Weather Service forecast calls for 4 to 8 inches of snow and sleet to fall across most of the Richmond metro area today and Thursday, with more in places. Ten to 14 inches could fall in northwestern Hanover County.

“Snow has begun as far north as Rt. 460 in VA, and in NE NC, and will continue spreading northward through the evening commute,” said Bill Sammler, a weather service meteorologist, in an email.

“We expect the evening commute to be treacherous” in places including the Richmond and Tri-Cities areas, Sammler said.

“Due to the fact that snow increases in intensity rapidly once it begins, roads will quickly become hazardous, and travel will be impeded,” he said.

Locally, most of the snow and sleet should fall from this evening to Thursday morning, with perhaps one-tenth of an inch or more of ice mixed in. A lighter snow should fall Thursday into late afternoon or early evening.

The wet snow and ice could take down tree limbs, causing power outages and blocking roads.

Snow will develop and quickly increase in intensity from south to north across the Tri-Cities and Richmond metro areas between 4 and 5 p.m., the National Weather Service said is a special statement.

“Visibility will quickly decrease to one-half mile or less as snow overspreads central Virginia,” the statement said.

Evening commuters should be extra careful. If you run into snow, slow down, use your low-beam headlights and keep a safe distance behind other vehicles.

12:45 p.m.

The coming snow will probably be the biggest in the Richmond area in four years, says Jeff Orrock, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

In a Twitter chat with The Times-Dispatch, Orrock said the region should get 4 to 8 inches of snow. (In a follow-up phone call, he said western parts of the region could get 10 inches.)

During the chat, Orrock said the coming snow should be the largest since Richmond got “6 inches or more” on Jan. 30 and Feb. 5, 2010.

The heaviest snow should come from sunset tonight through 5 a.m. Thursday, Orrock said. After that, the snow should mix with ice.

“Roads will likely cover rather quickly with snow during the latter portion of the evening commute...Snow accumulates quickly tonight,” Orrock said.

The ice forecast is tricky, but the region could get more than a tenth of an inch, on top of snow, Thursday morning and into the afternoon, he said.

People should stay off the roads Thursday, Orrock said. If you must travel, he said, be prepared to get stuck at times.

Winds should gust to 25 mph on Thursday, creating wind chills in the upper teens to around 20 all day, Orrock said.

“Given the wet snow and some ice it is best to prepare for some power outages,” Orrock said. “Be ready with alternate heat sources.”

Orrock concluded the chat with: “Be safe, try to get off the roads after sunset. Prepare (for) some power outages. Enjoy the snow.”

Orrock is the meteorologist in charge of the weather service’s Wakefield office.

(This has been a breaking news update. Earlier updates and this morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch are posted below.)

12:25 p.m.

Airlines have cancelled all flights today between Richmond and Atlanta, according to the Capital Region Airport Commission.

Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways have cancelled the total of 24 flights they run between Richmond International Airport and Atlanta, said airport spokesman Troy Bell.

As of noon today, RIC has seen 47 inbound and outbound flight cancellations because of the winter storm sweeping across the U.S. southeast.

Looking ahead to Thursday, airlines have already cancelled 56  flights, Bell said, though the focus of the scrubbed flights is shifting to   northeast airports, from Washington Dulles International up to Boston's Logan International.

-- Peter Bacque

(This has been a breaking news update. Earlier updates and this morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch are posted below.)

11 a.m.

A light snow should start falling in the Richmond area in early or mid-afternoon, and it should intensify between 5 and 7 p.m., the National Weather Service said.

The heaviest snow should fall from about 7 p.m. to midnight, said Lyle Alexander, a weather service meteorologist.

Combinations of snow, sleet, freezing rain and maybe pockets of rain should fall early Thursday, Alexander said. Then a light snow should fall from about mid-day Thursday to late afternoon or early evening.

The weather service this morning called for 5 to 10 inches of snow in Richmond, Henrico County and Hanover County, and 4 to 9 inches in a zone including parts of Chesterfield County, Prince George County and the Tri-Cities.

Tonight's commute “will probably be kind of tricky,” Alexander said. On Thursday, people should say home if they can, he said.

The forecast also calls for 10 to 14 inches of snow and sleet in Caroline, Goochland and Louisa counties, 8 to 14 inches in Powhatan and Amelia counties, 2 to 5 inches in Charles City and New Kent counties and 2 to 10 inches on the Northern Neck.

-- Rex Springston.

(This has been a breaking news update. Earlier updates and this morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch are posted below.)

7:30 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak is suspending some service, including trains going through Richmond, as a winter storm threatens the South and the Northeast.

The suspensions include trains between New York and several destinations in the South and the auto train between Lorton, Va., and Orlando, Fla. Amtrak says other services, including the Northeast Corridor, are scheduled to operate.

The suspensions include Crescent trains between New York and New Orleans; Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains between New York and Miami; Carolinian trains between New York and Charlotte, N.C.; Palmetto trains between New York and Savannah, Ga.; and Piedmont trains between Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina.

Here is the list of suspended service

--Northbound and southbound Crescent, Trains 19 and 20

--Southbound Silver Star and Silver Meteor, Trains 91 and 98

--Northbound and southbound Palmetto, Trains 89 and 90

--Northbound and southbound Auto Train, Trains 52 and 53

--Northbound and southbound Carolinian, Trains 79 and 80

--Eastbound and westbound Piedmont, Trains 75 and 76

-- Associated Press

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. An earlier update and this morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch are posted below.)

7:15 a.m.

The National Weather Service says this morning a forecast remains on track for a storm expected to bring major snowfall to a wide swath of the state.

Snow could begin falling as early as 2 p.m. in southern Richmond suburbs and the Tri Cities, and about 4 p.m. or later in the city of Richmond and to the north.

-- Staff reports

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. This morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is posted below.)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is urging Virginians to get ready for a major winter storm that’s expected to drop snow, sleet and freezing rain today and Thursday.

“Prepare to limit unnecessary travel during the storm, have emergency supplies on hand and be ready in the event that power in your area goes out,” he said Tuesday.

McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, which makes it easier for Virginia agencies to help local governments respond to the storm.

The National Weather Service forecast late Tuesday afternoon called for 4 to 9 inches of snow and sleet in Richmond, Henrico County and Hanover County, and 2 to 7 in the Chesterfield County and Tri-Cities areas. The heavier amounts are forecast for the northern and western parts of the region.

Some snow could begin falling today about midafternoon, and it should become heavier about 5 or 6 p.m., said Jeff Orrock, a weather service meteorologist.

Sleet and up to a tenth-of-an-inch of freezing rain should mix in from early Thursday to late that morning, Orrock said. After that, the precipitation should turn to all snow again, ending Thursday afternoon or evening.

It will be extremely difficult for traffic to move on Thursday, Orrock said. “This is a fairly crippling scenario for central Virginia, no matter how you slice it.”

The center of the storm is expected to move northeast off the Atlantic coast — so close that it should nudge some warm air this way from the ocean, contributing to the ice and sleet.

“It’s going to be a heavy, wet snow” that will stick in evergreen trees, Orrock said. That wet snow, plus the ice and wind gusts up to 25 mph, could mean trees falling on power lines, causing blackouts.

Orrock said he expected to see “pockets” of blackouts, not widespread outages.

McAuliffe said people should gather food, water and supplies to take care of themselves for at least three days in the event of blackouts or blocked roads.

People should travel only if absolutely necessary, McAuliffe said. If you do go out, he said, make sure your car contains water, food, blankets, a flashlight and extra batteries.

Elsewhere in central Virginia, the forecast calls for 8 to 14 inches in Amelia, Goochland, Louisa and Powhatan counties and 8 to 10 inches in Caroline County.

In other areas, the weather service predicted 2 to 10 inches on the Northern Neck, 1 to 3 inches on the Peninsula, 5 to 10 inches in Northern Virginia, 8 to 14 inches along the northern Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley, 12 to 13 inches in the Danville-to-Lynchburg area and 10 to 11 inches in the Roanoke-to-Martinsville area.

With the emergency declaration, the Virginia National Guard said it was authorized to activate up to 300 service members and it will stage personnel at readiness centers at key locations in the path of the storm.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is bracing for very messy roads.

Since late Monday, workers have been laying a pre-treatment salt solution on roads, said VDOT spokeswoman Lindsay LeGrand. She said workers would continue to do so, focusing especially on interstates and other heavily traveled roads before moving to secondary roads.

LeGrand said many trees will probably have to be trimmed, too, “because this particular snow looks like it’s going to be on the wet side and that typically makes branches heavier and that’s when you start seeing some of the debris in roadways.”

LeGrand said the past several weeks have required VDOT to use a lot of salt and sand on the roads, but the department is well-stocked for the upcoming storm.

She said VDOT had budgeted about $10.5 million for snow removal this winter. About half of that money has been spent, LeGrand said, and the other half could easily be spent this week if the weather is as bad as predicted.

But she said VDOT is prepared to dip into the department’s maintenance budget if needed.

Though area school officials fell short of any promises, they were optimistic on Tuesday afternoon that today would be a full school day.

Henrico schools spokesman Andy Jenks said the school division is “looking forward to having a normal school day on Wednesday,” but he added that officials would keep an eye on forecasts to see how the weather might affect evening school activities.

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His coverage areas include weather and climate change, and he has been the lead weather reporter at The Times-Dispatch for the past six years.

Send him your weather tips or questions at (804) 649-6453 or rspringston@timesdispatch.com.

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