March 8 stormstorm & icy road crashes - Charleston, WV: March 8, 2008
ABOVE: Snow blankets Charleston on Sunday morning, after the storm. (More photos below)
EXPEDITION VIDEO: Numerous accidents caught on tape in Charleston on Saturday morning: Watch Video
EXPEDITION VIDEO: Thunder and lightning during sleet in Charleston: Watch Video
DRIVING TIPS: Icy Bridge Safety
CHARLESTON, WV - While Ohio and Kentucky bore the brunt of this storm with up to 20 inches of snow, West Virginia didn't escape unscathed. Charleston picked up 3 inches during the day on Saturday. The main problem for drivers came from the freezing rain and sleet at the onset of the storm on Saturday morning, which caused serious problems on bridges and overpasses. As usual, the Fort Hill/Oakwood bridge on I-64 in Charleston was the scene of numerous spinouts and crashes.
I began my 'chase' of this event by making a quick trip to Rio Grande, Ohio at around 10PM on Friday to get ahead of what appeared to be an area of thundersnow (snow with lightning) in central Kentucky. The parent low pressure system responsible for the storm was expected to intensify to the point where widespread thundersnow was expected in Kentucky and Ohio, and since Charleston was not forecast to drop below freezing until Saturday afternoon, I decided to concentrate my attention to the area west of the Ohio River. The lack of surface observations made it difficult to determine where the rain-snow-freezing rain line was located in southeast Ohio, and I discovered after passing Point Pleasant on Route 35 that all of the lightning in central Kentucky was associated with freezing rain rather than snow. Furthermore, temperatures in Putnam County, WV were already at 32°F with Charleston's temps also falling faster than expected. Due to this new information, I decided to immediately head back to Charleston, where a light glaze of ice finally was beginning to form by 2AM.
Just before dawn, the freezing rain activity to the west was finally beginning to encroach on Charleston, so I parked at my usual spot on Fort Hill to begin filming the interstate bridge. The onset of the precip was quite impressive - with nearly pea-sized hailstone-like ice chunks falling within heavy freezing rain. The bridge was coated with ice quickly, and despite the diligent efforts of salt crews, the sleet maintained enough intensity to keep the bridge very slick for two hours. I witnessed nine accidents/spinouts on the bridge through 9:30AM.
Lightning and thunder was in progress during the sleet/freezing rain mixture, happening at the same time that cars were crashing on the I-64 bridge. Here, a lightning flash illuminates a car losing control on the bridge:
The interstate was eventually shut down, at which point I went down to the bridge to get aftermath shots.
The sleet/freezing rain mix changed to heavy snow by 10:30AM, quickly accumulating 2 inches of snow downtown:
Strong winds moved in as the snow tapered off in the afternoon, creating scenes with drifting patterns and 'reverse tire tracks'.
Sunday morning saw sunny skies and temperatures rising quickly in Charleston, with the dripping water from the melting snow a widespread sound.