Jan. 14—PRINCETON — Preparations were being made Thursday at the local and state levels for a winter storm that's expected to arrive Sunday and dump 12 or more inches of snow over the region.
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg,Va. has been watching as a major winter storm develops over southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
"The start time will probably be sometime Sunday morning and really throughout the day Sunday, then kind of wrapping up Monday morning, Monday afternoon," meteorologist Erik Taylor stated. "We're still trying to figure out the overall track of the thing."
The weather service's forecast Thursday showed a slight chance of snow Saturday and a 40 percent chance Saturday night. Chances for snow jump to 90 percent Sunday followed by 40 percent Monday.
Estimates for total snowfall were still shifting Thursday, but the Bluefield area could see, "on the low end," about 9 inches, said meteorologist Robert Beasley.
The range of snowfall for the region could be, potentially, up to 2 feet, he added.
"It's pretty much consistent in your area at about 10 to 15 inches," Beasley said of the estimates. "Plan on seeing about a foot and see if it ends up on either side of it."
Predictions have been showing that a winter storm will likely impact the region.
"Models have been very insistent on this event for three or four days," Beasley stated. "And they've been advertising double-digit snowfall for that area, so that's not a good sign."
According to estimates issued Thursday by Accuweather, southern West Virginia including Mercer and McDowell Counties as well as Tazewell County and other parts of Southwest Virginia could see 3 to 6 inches of snow and as much as 12 inches in some areas.
Local preparations for the storm were underway Thursday.
"Well, we're setting up our crews and getting our trucks ready," said Eric Gatchell, the City of Princeton's assistant director of public works. "We've got eight plow trucks and five spreaders trucks."
Materials for treating the roads were ready along with crews and equipment.
"We have just gotten another 100 tons of cinders on site," Gatchell stated. "We have 50 tons of salt available and 50 more on the way. As for manpower, we're planning to bring in a full crew Sunday morning."
Crews could be on the city's roads earlier if heavy snow arrives before Sunday.
"We'll start as soon as it starts to snow," he said. "We will be on it."
In the City of Bluefield, seven snowplows are ready to clear the roads, said City Manager Cecil Marson. Six are pickup trucks equipped with plow blades, and one is a mainline plow the city recently purchased.
All of the city's crews have been notified, and the city has been speaking with American Electric Power (AEP) and the West Virginia Department of Highways. The city will ready to work with contractors that clear large parking lots as well as city crews when the snow arrives, Marson said. The Bluefield Police Department and Bluefield Fire Department are tracking the storm and ready to operate during it if needed.
Since the city has many hills, Marson asked residents to park their vehicles in driveways whenever possible or in flat areas so plows can operate more efficiently.
"We've got an exceptional public works team and we'll be ready to go," Marson stated.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is watching forecasts so officials can "plan and refine how best we can respond," according to Michelle Earl, Bristol District communications manager for VDOT.
"And we plan to fully mobilize with all the equipment that we have for this storm as we watch forecasts and see if it continues to trend as snow looks more and more predictable," Earl said.
Travel is not advisable if a storm makes driving conditions hazardous, Earl said.
"When there's less traffic, there's more space for our plow operators to get through there and get things looking good," she stated. "And Interstates 77 and 81 are the primary routes as well as the primary highways."
In Virginia, Route 460 is listed as a primary highway, Earl said.
"Anything that's got the number 599 and below is considered a primary highway," she said. "And 600 plus are secondary highways. Our main focus is where the majority of traffic is found."
Residents in both West Virginia and Virginia were asked not to call 911 centers about road conditions and leave the 911 lines open for emergency calls.
Virginia residents who think they must travel during the storm can go to 511va.org and look at traffic cameras posted along interstates.
"It's definitely a way to visualize what's ahead of you," Earl said.
Motorists in West Virginia can check road conditions at wv511.org. At the website, people can access video cameras that show current highway conditions.
Representatives of District 10 of the West Virginia Department of Transportation were unavailable for comment Thursday.
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