NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The coast of Virginia was blanketed in up to 10 inches of snow Wednesday, with many workers in the heavily populated Hampton Roads region being told to stay home rather than travel to work in dangerous conditions.
School districts canceled classes, government offices shut down for the day and tens of thousands of sailors at the region's Navy bases were told to stay away unless they're considered mission essential personnel. The result was that the area's ordinarily traffic-plagued interstates and highways were largely empty during the morning rush hour, with many residents heeding government warnings to stay home unless absolutely necessary. The region's public transportation system was also closed for the day.
The Virginia Department of Transportation worked throughout the night to make major roads passable, although the snowfall didn't stop in most cities until well after sunrise. By noon, VDOT said interstate and primary roads were passable. As conditions improved, state crews were expected to begin working on secondary roads. Each city was also working to plow its major thoroughfares, although most residential roads remained impassable.
With temperatures expected to remain below freezing well into Thursday, the Navy began notifying its sailors that they should plan on staying home again unless they're considered mission essential personnel. Many school systems and local governments were also planning on remaining closed another day.
On Wednesday morning, Virginia State Police reported that it received calls for 110 wrecks and 153 disabled vehicles since the snow started falling Tuesday in region that covers the southeastern part of the state, as well as the Eastern Shore. Local governments were compiling their own statistics.
Snowstorms in the region are uncommon, and plenty of children — and adults — built snowmen, engaged in snowball fights and sought out what inclines they could find to go sledding. State police made a plea for residents to stop sledding and snowboarding near interstates and on-ramps, which is illegal.
"This activity is highly dangerous to the pedestrians on the interstate and emergency personnel attempting to ensure the public's safety on the roadways," Sgt. Michelle Anaya, a state police spokeswoman said in an email to news outlets.
In downtown Norfolk, many people chose to travel by foot instead of digging out their cars from unplowed neighborhood streets to reach the few open convenience stores and restaurants. At the Port of Virginia, all state-controlled terminals in Hampton Roads were closed until Thursday.
In Virginia Beach, palm trees, a large statue of King Neptune and wide sandy beaches were covered with a dusting of snow Wednesday morning as high winds coming off the ocean kept too much snow from accumulating.
The snowfall totals fell short of forecasts calling for up to a foot in some parts of Hampton Roads, but not by much.
The National Weather Service said about 10 inches of snow was reported Wednesday morning in certain neighborhoods in Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, although most parts of those cities received a few inches less than that. On the Eastern Shore of Virginia, about 7 inches were reported in Accomack County.
At Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, six inches were reported. Nonessential personnel who are stationed there were told to stay home, while NASA's neighboring Langley Research Center was closed as crews worked to clear roads on its campus.
Several inches of snow were also reported west into Richmond.
Garbage pickup was canceled in numerous Hampton Roads cities planned for Wednesday and Thursday.
The National Weather Service said the Norfolk area averages fewer than three days of snow each winter that result in at least an inch of accumulation. Wednesday marks the fourth day in less than two weeks that at least an inch of snow has fallen.
Many grocery and hardware stores in Hampton Roads were out of snowstorm provisions before nightfall Tuesday after being raided by customers a week earlier for a storm that brought about 3 inches of snow in a much smaller overnight storm.
Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach all declared states of emergency. The move allows them to track and possibly seek reimbursements for storm-related costs. In Chesapeake, the declaration also meant that tolls were suspended on a bridge and an expressway.
VDOT said its goal is to make state roads passable within 48 hours after a snow storm passes.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis