A rare autumn ice storm sweeping across Southwest Virginia on Thursday spawned vehicle wrecks and felled trees, and plunged thousands of homes into darkness.
Residents in the New River Valley, and to the region’s south and west, were hit hardest as the storm formed a witch’s brew of wind, rain, freezing rain, sleet and just a dash of snow.
By Thursday evening, more than 7,200 customers remained without power in Floyd County — 77 percent of Appalachian Power’s customers there, according to the company. Power in some places may not be restored until late Saturday night.
Most outages were caused by trees falling under the weight of snow and sleet, the power company reported.
Carroll and Grayson counties were among the hardest hit, with 7,900 and 5,400 customers in the dark, respectively, as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday. More than 2,000 households were still without power in Montgomery County, with about 550 in Roanoke County and 650 in Wythe County.
Many schools in the region closed or delayed classes Thursday. The storm also contributed to dozens of crashes, including one in the Shawsville area that caused injuries.
Between midnight and about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Virginia State Police handled 59 crashes in the region, Sgt. Rick Garletts said.
Thursday’s ice was the result of a massive storm system affecting the eastern half of the country with heavy rain, ice, snow and wind.
Over Southwest Virginia, warm, moist air was lifted atop colder air banked against the mountains, resulting in rain falling through the colder air and freezing at the surface.
Some sleet also occurred, where rain fell through a thick enough layer for it to freeze into ice pellets, slushing up roads quickly in areas west and northwest of Roanoke.
Ice accretions on exposed objects like tree limbs and power lines ranged from one-tenth to one-half inch in many localities through the New River Valley and along the Blue Ridge south of Roanoke.
Lower elevations of the Roanoke Valley, including all of Roanoke except its higher hills, escaped the ice as temperatures did not drop below 33 degrees.
Thursday’s storm is one of the earliest instances of significant ice accumulation on record in Southwest Virginia.
As a result of the ice storm’s mid-November arrival plus late-departing summer warmth in early October, many trees retained at least part of their leaves, adding more surface for ice to collect upon, adding weight to trees.
Ice storms more typically occur in December through February, when most trees are leafless.
Staff writers Matt Chittum and Kevin Myatt contributed to this report.