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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/21/2012

When waiting for snow at home gets old

Moderate snow falls in Montpelier, Va. on February 19, 2012.
I woke up on Sunday and I knew the snow forecast was not a positive one. What I did not know was that in a few hours I’d be standing in some of the heaviest snow I’ve seen since Commutageddon in January of last winter, or even back to the great winter of ‘09-10. In fact, in about 30 minutes, I watched more snow accumulate than has happened in one storm this winter in Washington, and later witnessed more than twice as much on the ground as we’ve seen all season.

The “fringe storm of 2012” impacted parts of central and southern Va. with a sizeable snowfall ranging from about 5-10” on the high end. That’s especially huge in this winterless winter we’ve had on the East Coast. Along with CWG lead seasonal forecaster Matt Ross, I was able to witness at least part of the best of this storm while racing (or crawling) through central Va.

A snow lover can only wait for snow for so long. Reminiscing about the January 20-21 1”+ of snow just was not going to cut it. And at this point in the winter, that one could end up being the big event of the year. Sad, huh? As if to rub salt in the wound, we were briefly tantalized that this weekend might be different around here.

Of course, by the time forecast maps came out we knew that was not going to happen. Maybe next time. That is, if there is one...

Those were Sunday morning thoughts.

The noon run of the Rapid Update Cycle indicated a period of .1”+ per hour liquid equivalent precipitation (dark green) to the south of D.C. This can correlate to 1” per hour or greater snow.
Around noon, I got a message from Matt asking if I wanted to chase some snow to our south. I was skeptical, but together we looked over several runs of a short range model called the RUC (Rapid Update Cycle) and saw the potential for at least a brief period of heavy snow within a fairly short driving distance -- yes, far southwest Va. got more snow but that would be more than a few hour trip.

After an hour or so of online debate, we pulled the trigger and set in motion a plan that put us on the road and exiting D.C. around 3 p.m.

Snow begins to fall moderately in Unionville, Va. around 4:45 p.m. on February 19.

Snow accumulation increases on the road toward Orange, Va. from Unionville, Va.

We headed in the direction of Culpeper, Va. and ultimately dropped a little further south to Wilderness, Va. (near Lake of the Woods) before we saw the first flakes. The snow came on nicely as we entered into a stronger band and it quickly began to accumulate while temperatures dropped from around 40 to near freezing. From Wilderness, we moved southwest as snow continued. Finally, we decided to stop and hang out in a small park to watch the snow fall.

Wet snow sticks to posts a few miles northeast of Orange, Va.

Wet snow sticks to trees and everything else a few miles northeast of Orange, Va.
After stopping near Orange until it began to get dark, and studying radar to see where to go next, we decided to drop further south and east. In some ways it was a counterintuitive decision as we all know “north and west” is usually the better place to be. But, we were looking more for the heaviest snow we could get into rather than the highest totals, and it was unmistakable that an area of blinding snow was developing, much like the RUC model had shown earlier in the day.

A band of snow develops to the south of our location (blue target.
On the way south to the heavy snow band that was continuing to develop while moving east, we stopped briefly near Lake Anna to take a measurement. About 2-3” was on the ground there at the time with light to moderate snow falling even though radar indicated little in the way of activity at the time. We also grabbed some junk food (a storm chase necessity) and were off to the good stuff.

After the pit stop, we headed southeast toward our next destination in Montpelier, Va. As we arrived into the town and looked for a place with lights to watch it snow, visibilities dropped to about 1/8 mile and road conditions deteriorated further. We stopped at the first spot we found with street lamps and stepped out into a thick fog of huge wet snowflakes. Over the next 45 minutes to an hour, around 2” of snow fell, with 1.5” of it coming in about 30 minutes.

Heavy snow is intercepted northwest of Richmond, Va. Our location is indicated by the blue target.

Heavy snow falls in Montpelier, Va.

Heavy snow falls in Montpelier, Va.
From Montpelier we slowly crawled east on icy and snow-covered roads toward Ashland, Va. One of the issues with chasing weather is having to drive in the weather. Fortunately, I only had to hope we did not slide off the road from the passenger seat! About an hour later we got onto a very snowy I-95 just north of Richmond.

It was kind of fitting to see snow on I-95. Every local snow lover dreams of an I-95 snowstorm, except when it does not happen from D.C. to Boston!

Before midnight, we arrived back in Washington to the scene below. Sometimes you gotta go to the weather when it refuses to come to you.

In D.C., it’s hard to even tell a few raindrops and snowflakes fell.

By  |  12:30 PM ET, 02/21/2012

Categories:  Photography, Winter Storms, Latest

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