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Ice storm leaves dark homes and dangerous roads in its wake across Virginia

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An ice storm in Richmond

The ice that draped so many trees in a coat too heavy to bear plunged more than 285,000 Virginia households into darkness and left its invisible but dangerous imprint on roadways Saturday.

Julie Mills-Taylor, a communications consultant with Dominion, said 220,000 customers lost power at some point since 4 a.m. and more than 140,000 remained out as of 7 p.m.

"We've got all our available crews in action for the restoration effort and we're anticipating that will likely go beyond the weekend," she said.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Dominion reported more than 92,000 outages in the Metro Richmond/Tri-Cities region. More than 40,000 of those customers were in Chesterfield County. In Dinwiddie County, all but 300 of Dominion's 6,999 customers were without power.

By 2 a.m. Sunday, the Richmond/Tri-Cities region had 108,271 customers without power. The largest outages were 44,003 in Chesterfield; 12,791 in Henrico; 10,354 in Petersburg; and 10,271 in Richmond.

Downed trees blocked roads throughout much of the state and impeded travel on Interstate 85 in Dinwiddie and the southbound lane of Interstate 95 near the Lewistown Road exit in Hanover County.

Southside Virginia was particularly hard hit by the ice storm. Nearly 40,000 customers - half the number serviced by Dominion in the region - were without power as of 6 p.m. Saturday. By 2 a.m. Sunday, that number was down to 37,242.

Jordan Pegram, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in El Paso, Texas, tweeted Saturday that her father, who lives in the Lunenburg County community of Dundas, said the ice on the trees measured roughly a half-inch.

"He drove only a mile from the house & encountered dozens of trees down across the road. Most power lines are laying down on the ground with bent poles. Might be [without] power for days," she tweeted.

Approximately 285,000 customers across the state remained without power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates utilities' outage data.

Appalachian Power Co. reported that more than 40,000 of its Virginia customers, or 7%, remained without electric service as of 6 p.m. Saturday. It was unclear when power would be restored.

"We will not be able to provide restoration estimates until the storm passes and the extent of damage is known," spokeswoman Teresa Hall wrote in an end-of-day update.

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative had more than 11,000 outages around 8 p.m. Saturday; Southside Electric Cooperative, 44,146; Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, 881.

A number of weather spotter reports throughout central Virginia reported ice of ¼ to ½-inch thick by early evening as rain continued to fall. The National Weather Service in Wakefield received a report of up to 0.6-inch-thick ice from Lunenburg County. Though not the heaviest ice totals in central Virginia’s history, it did live up to forecasts – and the billing as the biggest ice event since the catastrophic Christmas Eve storm of 1998, which brought 1 inch of ice and left 400,000 in the dark.

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Saturday’s ice was just as heavy into the western Piedmont between Bedford and Martinsville, and the higher elevations southwest of Roanoke.

Northern Virginia saw a slick combination of sleet and freezing rain throughout the day, while Hampton Roads saw rain and remained too warm for ice.

High pressure sprawling from the middle of Canada eastward into New England shoved a shallow but cold layer of air southward into Virginia’s Piedmont. A warm and wet southwesterly wind rode atop the freezing air, 3,000 to 8,000 feet above central Virginia. Snow melted into rain, which froze again on contact with elevated surfaces.

Virginia’s ice was connected to an unusually wintry weather pattern that’s plunging an Arctic air mass through the Great Plains, and spreading snow chances from Seattle to Houston to New York City.

Overnight temperatures forecast to hover in the lower 30s made the prospect of an overnight thaw unlikely, leading the National Weather Service to extend its advisory to 10 a.m. Sunday and the Virginia State Police to urge motorists to stay off the roads.

The Virginia State Police discouraged Virginians from driving through Sunday due to the "extremely icy and treacherous conditions" across much of Central, Southeastern and Northern Virginia.

The weather gave state troopers a workout from 12:00 a.m. through 9 p.m. Saturday. Virginia State Police responded to a total of 195 disabled vehicles and 366 traffic crashes statewide. No fatal crashes were reported during that time.

”Our responders are still responding to all the calls for service. It just may take a little bit more time," said Sgt. Dylan Davenport, a public information officer for the Richmond Division of the Virginia State Police. "We can’t drive as we normally would to get to emergency calls, but someone is coming if you need help. And again, if you don’t have to go out and put yourself in a position to break down in the road or have a vehicle emergency, it’s just better for everyone if you don’t travel unnecessarily.”

For individuals without automobiles, GRTC planned to resume its normal service Sunday. But customers are advised about potential delays and detours along its routes as a result of the ice storm. And if necessary, the transit line said it might implement snow routes. Customers can check for service updates online at rideGRTC.com or by hearing the updated recording at 804-358-GRTC.

SUNDAY’S FORECAST

Expect continued overcast, damp and drizzly skies, but slightly warmer readings. Temperatures likely head above freezing by midday with an afternoon high in the mid-to-upper 30s. More rain showers are possible late in the day, but additional freezing rain is not expected from that activity.

WHEN WILL IT GET WARMER?

After Sunday morning, Richmond-area temperatures should remain above the 32-degree line until late Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. At best, Tuesday may bring the next high in the 50s.

THE NEXT DRY, SUNNY DAY?

Unsettled weather will keep clouds around through Sunday, Monday and early Tuesday. We could see clearing late Tuesday, and again Wednesday.

MORE WINTER WEATHER?

The next system affecting us from Monday into Tuesday morning should be an ordinary rain for central Virginia, with sleet or freezing rain confined to the mountains.

Another system will bring wet weather from Thursday into Friday. That could start as an icy mix across northern and western portions of Virginia, but it’s unclear if any of that would affect Richmond. There are no signs of a snowstorm on the horizon.

Check Richmond.com/weather for John Boyer's forecast updates. Contact him at JBoyer@timesdispatch.com.

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