NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The coastal region of Virginia braced for a winter storm on Tuesday that could bring up to a foot of snow near the North Carolina border, which comes only a week after several inches of snowfall brought much of the area to a standstill.
The Virginia Department of Transportation put more than 350 pieces of equipment including salt trucks and snow plows in Hampton Roads in anticipation of the storm, and motorists were urged to stay off roads once the wintry weather hits. Concerts, community meetings and a minor league hockey game were among the events canceled or postponed due to the storm.
The National Weather Service says the heaviest snowfall is expected to occur overnight in southeastern Virginia Beach and southern Chesapeake. The snow was set to begin Tuesday afternoon and continue into Wednesday throughout the region. Many grocery stores' supplies of bread and milk were already depleted by Tuesday morning while hardware stores were running low on snow shovels, firewood and salt.
The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk closed early on Tuesday and had no plans to open on Wednesday, while the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach was also scheduled to close early on Tuesday.
In Virginia Beach, many stores had brisk sales of sleds as flurries began, demonstrating the excitement some feel for the snow.
One of those eyeing sleds outside a Bed, Bath & Beyond was Alisa Agey, a mother of three originally from New Jersey who said she was looking for a way to have some fun in the storm as the state's largest city prepared to be inundated with snow.
"The roads aren't prepared enough because they just don't have the equipment to handle it, and because of that, then school has to be out. We can get this much snow up north and we still go to school, but the kids are going to have all these snow days now because they're just prepared with the roads," she said . "They're very excited."
Many local school districts made plans to dismiss students early on Tuesday and to close schools on Wednesday. Government offices and businesses also made similar decisions for their employees, who were confronted with the possibility of being hit by the storm just before the evening rush hour began. Employees at the region's Navy bases were told to stay home on Wednesday unless they were considered mission essential personnel.
At Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy's master jet base on the East Coast, afternoon training flights were canceled in anticipation of the storm, said base spokeswoman Kelley Stirling. She said clearing the base's runway of snow would be a top priority, but that it could take several days to get operations up and running again.
Road crews were preparing to clear as many thoroughfares as possible just a week after going through the same routine when about 3 inches of snow fell in the southern part of Hampton Roads.
This time, six inches to a foot of snow is forecast for Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Other areas in the region could receive 3 to 6 inches of snow.
Up to 4 inches of snow is forecast for the Northern Neck. Other parts of Virginia could receive up to 3 inches of snow.
Repeated snowfalls in the Norfolk area are rare.
The Norfolk area averages 2.4 days of snowfall each winter that result in at least one inch of accumulation, according to the National Weather Service. Large snowstorms in the area are not unheard of. On Dec. 26 2010, Norfolk received 13.4 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
Norfolk's city government issued a local declaration of emergency on Tuesday, which allows it to track storm expenditures for reimbursement.
The good news for motorists is that temperatures shouldn't remain below freezing for long, which should aid in clearing roads.
"The good thing is, by Thursday it's back up to 34 in Norfolk. By Friday, it will be up into the mid-upper 40s," said Scott Minnick, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Wakefield. "It kind of depends on how much snow we will actually get. We do clear out nicely by Wednesday night and mostly sunny Thursday, especially for Southeast Virginia."
The Virginia Department of Transportation has said its goal is to have all state-maintained roads passable within 48 hours after a winter storm has passed.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis