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SNOW MAY SET RECORD
Regional braces for 12 to 24 inches of snow

 VDOT will have 497 snow plows out clearing roads in the Fredericksburg District.
file/SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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SURVIVAL GUIDE:Everything you need to know to get through the snowstorm

Date published: 12/19/2009

By KELLY HANNON

Relentless snow and high winds will create a rare December snowstorm in the Fredericksburg area that could leave 12 to 24 inches of snow on the ground by tomorrow morning, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling.

If the forecast is correct, it could be the largest snowfall in the Fredericksburg region since the 21-inch Blizzard of 1996 that fell over two days in January.

It could also be the largest December snowfall in Fredericksburg in a century, based on available records.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine asked residents to avoid travel, and declared a state of emergency even before the snow started falling yesterday, warning of possible power outages.

AAA Mid-Atlantic made an even stronger case for delaying travel.

In uppercase red letters, it released a statement yesterday: "Stay Home."

"The longer motorists are off the roads, the safer it will be and the faster area road crews can clear the roads," said John B. Townsend II, manager of government and public affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Washington.

Sgt. Thomas Molnar, Virginia State Police spokesman, said if residents must travel, they should start with a full tank of gas, carry a charged cell phone and blankets, and above all, buckle up and drive slower than usual.

"If the speed limit is 55 mph, that's not a safe speed if there is snow and ice on the roadways," Molnar said.

THE FORECAST

Last night, the National Weather Service was predicting anywhere from 12 to 24 inches of snow could fall on the Fredericksburg area, possibly more in higher elevations. "Snow will be heaviest between 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday," said Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service.

A winter storm warning is in effect in the region through 6 a.m. Sunday.

High temperatures will be in the mid to upper 20s today. All weekend, wind will be 10 to 15 mph, with wind gusts up to 25 mph, Meadows said.

Conditions were expected to deteriorate rapidly last night, "making travel extremely treacherous," Meadows said.

VDOT READY TO PLOW

The Virginia Department of Transportation began 24-hour operations yesterday morning, with crews rotating in 12-hour shifts to operate 497 pieces of snow removal equipment in the 14-county Fredericksburg District.


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It's not a myth: Snowshoveling can be risky

Dr. Sajad Mir lived for 18 years in Minneapolis. He knew that each time there was a wet, heavy snowfall, someone in the area would have a heart attack while shoveling.

The same thing is likely to happen here, he said, if there's an accumulation of snow as predicted.

"If not tomorrow, then the next day or the next day," he said.

Mir, a cardiologist, works now with Virginia Cardiovascular Consultants at Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital Center.

What is likely to happen, he said, is that someone who doesn't know they have heart disease will start shoveling snow in the cold.

Frequently this person will be at least 50, perhaps sedentary or a smoker, maybe with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Soon they'll feel a pain in the chest. The stress of the lifting causes a crack in the plaque in the wall of an artery.

"A clot will form there," Mir said.

Those who are aware of their heart disease are usually more careful and will pay someone to shovel their sidewalk, Mir said. It's those who don't know who are the frequent victims.

"It invariably will happen to somebody, especially if you're in that risk category," he said.

--Jim Hall

Biggest area snowfalls

Largest single-day snowfall totals recorded in the Fredericksburg area since 1895:

21 inches--Jan. 28, 1922 20--Feb. 13, 1899 17--Jan. 24, 1940 15.3--Feb. 19, 1979 14--Dec. 23, 1908 13--Jan. 23, 1987 12--Jan. 1, 1971 11.5--Jan. 8, 1940 11.5-- Feb. 16, 1958 11--Jan. 8, 1996 10.5--Jan. 27, 1966 10--Jan. 7, 1996 10--Jan. 26, 1987 10--Dec. 17, 1932

Note: Jan. 7 and 8, 1996, snowfalls totaled 21 inches.