Area prepares for worst as storm nears

Posted: March 6, 2013

The Winchester Star

Virginia Department of Transportation workers George Wetzel (from left), Frank Wright and David Riggs install snow chains on a front-end loader Tuesday in Stephens City in preparation for an expected heavy snowfall in the northern Shenandoah Valley. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Bert Cline (from left) of Middletown, gets some help from Miller's Ace Hardware employees Gary Smallwood and Terry Harmon loading bags of ice-melting compound at the Stephens City store.
Virginia Department of Transportation worker Jeff Gochenour tests a diesel- powered snowblower Tuesday in Stephens City.

WINCHESTER — Widespread panic didn’t quite set in among area residents Tuesday, but forecasters were warning of a snowstorm that was about to clobber the city today.

“[Winchester] will be on the northern fringe of the worst,” said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling.

He predicted that the area could see 10 to 15 inches “of the stuff that everyone calls the back-breaking snow.”

Residents were told to expect to wake up today to moderate to heavy, big snowflakes that could continue to blanket the area until around noon, when the storm was expected to taper off and eventually end around mid-evening.

“It will be coming down pretty good,” Witt said of the morning hours, adding that snow showers could reduce visibility to about one mile.

The daunting forecast even had a CNN satellite van parked outside the Feltner Building downtown as the network prepared to cover the storm.

‘More like a ritual’

Despite the ominous forecast, local residents did not seemed fazed.

“Snow doesn’t bother me,” said Ed Orndorff, 82.

The Winchester resident had a half-full shopping cart Tuesday afternoon at the Martin’s at 200 Rivendell Court in Frederick County.

He said other than getting to the store a day or so early, he wasn’t picking up anything special in preparation for the likely heavy snowfall.

And he wasn’t the only one.

Jessica Bayliff, 40, and her mother Judy Webber, 63, both of Winchester, were at the store to pick up a few things — but said they weren’t too worried about the weather.

“It’s more like a ritual,” Bayliff said of shopping before a storm.

Jan Puffenberger, 58, of Winchester, said she expects the snow, so she wasn’t panicking.

“This is a lot less scary than the hurricane was,” she said, referring to Superstorm Sandy, the worst of which missed the Winchester area last fall.

Store manager Dale Martin said there was a spike in business ahead of the predicted storm but that people appear to be more prepared this year for the weather.

“Because of the early notice, people are having a little more fun with [this storm],” he said. “At this point, they’re buying a little more comfort food.”

Ready to act

Local and state officials may not have been in panic mode either, but they weren’t taking any chances.

“Weather conditions are anticipated to be the most severe in areas like the northern Shenandoah Valley, the northern Piedmont and Northern Virginia,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a Tuesday media release, urging all Virginians to take the appropriate steps to prepare for the storm.

“We are preparing at the state level for this late-winter event. But even with the best preparations there will still be power outages and dangerous travel conditions.”

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the city of Winchester had implemented Snow Plan B — which means residents are warned to use caution and drive only when necessary. Snow tires or tire chains are required, residents must keep sidewalks cleared, and parking is not allowed along designated snow emergency routes.

The Winchester Parking Authority opened all garages at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for the public to park their vehicles for free until the city deactivates Snow Plan B.

Spokespersons at the Winchester Police Department and Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said their four-wheel-drive vehicles were gassed up and ready to go.

WPD spokeswoman Lauren Cummings said officers were prepared for the worst and encouraged residents to hold off on non-emergency calls until the snow clears.

“If you don’t have to be out, don’t go out,” she added.

Cummings encouraged drivers to anticipate sliding, be extra cautious and to leave room between vehicles.

Capt. John Heflin with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office encouraged residents to stay off the roads altogether.

Virginia Department of Transportation crews across the state also were ready to respond. Crews will work in 12-hour shifts around the clock to clear roads throughout the storm, according to a media release.

Art Yow, Winchester Medical Center director of safety and security, said the hospital is looking for drivers today to drive essential staff from their homes to the hospital.

Interested parties with four- or all-wheel-drive vehicles can call the security supervisor at 540-536-4175.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com