Major Winter Storm Heading for Virginia, Forecasters Warn

A January 2021 snowfall glimmers across a Chatham landscape. Photo by Amie Knowles

A January 2021 snowfall glimmers across a Chatham landscape. Photo by Amie Knowles

By Amie Knowles

February 11, 2021

Snow’s in the forecast for Virginia. How much and where the flakes will fall are still in question. 

BLACKSBURG – It doesn’t matter what part of the state you live in. Over the next 24 hours, you’ll feel some impact from a major winter storm heading this way.

It could bring ice, sleet or snow. The type of precipitation depends on several different weather factors. Brendon Rubin-Oster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, watched the system closely.

The first drops of precipitation pelted the Appalachian region Wednesday morning, hours before any wintry weather fluttered over the mountains. 

By Thursday evening, everything from rain to snow to ice or a mix of those droplets could blanket portions of the state.

“Everyone’s going to see precipitation, but the biggest ice potential would be along the I-81 corridor and Harrisonburg, Virginia, southward, could be some ice accumulation there,” Rubin-Oster said. “It even gets into parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There could be some ice there. If you go up farther northward, I-66, even more north than that, there might be some sleet mixing in with the snow. It’s another one of those kind of mixed bags that tends to occur a lot with our systems, where it doesn’t stay one precipitation type the whole time.”

By Sunday, the system will be out of the Commonwealth. 

Differing Opinions 

Just because the weatherman says it’s going to snow, that doesn’t mean flakes will fall from the sky. That’s because forecasting the weather is a prediction, not a guarantee. However, there are helpful models that show what weather patterns might occur.

Some of the more popular models are the North American Mesoscale Model, the Global Forecast System and the Nested Grid Model. Other models, like the Canadian Model and European Model, also display weather possibilities.

“Ultimately each model has certain biases and certain things they go into,” Rubin-Oster said. “They initialize lots of information.”

Each model predicts the weather off of information received from weather balloons. Several times a day, weather experts send the balloons up, up and away. As they rise, the balloons collects data and provide an upper-air analysis of the atmosphere.

The different models sometimes show differing weather scenarios. 

“They all have different little intricacies. Some of them are better at certain aspects of the forecasts than others. There are kind of known biases in each model,” Rubin-Oster said. “We have to evaluate all of them and see, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the models, what we can do with them. That’s why we evaluate so many.”

Creating the most accurate forecast for a given area comes from tracking consistencies within the models.

“Ultimately, you want to see, is it consistent? Is it maintaining? Or is it kind of bouncing all over the place?” Rubin-Oster said. “…Kind of factors like that, we’ll look at.”

Winter Weather Preparedness

Whether or not snow or ice blankets the Commonwealth this week and weekend, bread, milk and eggs might fly off of store shelves.

Traditionally, Virginians rush to procure those items. However, there are items besides groceries that folks might want to add to their winter weather checklist.

“We don’t know how much exactly will fall out with this storm, but the more snow you have, you’re going to need some supplies,” Rubin-Oster said. “A shovel to, you know, shovel the snow. Or if you need to put some salt or melt onto your walkway. You know, things like that. Little supplies here and there besides just food and water.”

But beyond that, the California native stressed taking roadway conditions into consideration before heading out.

“I didn’t deal with snow for a long time. And then I got here a long time ago. And it’s hard. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go out on the roads,” Rubin-Oster said. “But if you do, take it easy and leave plenty of distance. Don’t overdrive. The speed limit’s posted, but you don’t have to [go that fast]. The speed limit’s meant for dry roads. You should be going much more toward just being safe, to feel comfortable. Make sure you test out the roads. And if you’re not comfortable, ahead of time just in a parking lot, see how you react to the winter conditions. It is hazardous to be unsure of what you’re doing.” 

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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