CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A winter best known for its subzero temperatures delivered its most significant snowfall to the area Thursday, blanketing most of West Virginia with snow that reached nearly 2 feet in some places.
Snow fell so fast Thursday morning that road crews couldn't keep highways and streets clean, leading to numerous accidents throughout the region.
Snowplow operators reported that snow was falling at the rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour in Charleston Thursday morning, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Drivers were "just sliding around and hitting things," a Kanawha County Metro 911 dispatcher said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said only state employees "providing essential services" should report to work, and urged West Virginians to stay off the road "unless absolutely necessary."
According to the National Weather Service's Charleston Forecast Office, 7 inches of snow was on the ground in Charleston shortly after 1 p.m., after which the snowfall mostly stopped in the area. At the same time, about 5.5 inches had piled up at the weather service office near Southridge Centre.
Parts of Interstate 77 were closed at various times. All but one lane was closed near the Kanawha-Jackson county line during morning rush hour, and Kanawha sheriff's deputies reported that the highway just north of Charleston was "nearly impassable," according to Sheriff's Capt. Sean Crosier.
Schools were closed in at least 50 of West Virginia's 55 counties Thursday; more than 20 already had canceled Friday classes as evening approached. West Virginia State University and the University of Charleston canceled classes all day, as well as basketball games in the evening. Concord University, Shepherd University, Bluefield State College and Glenville State College also shut down, as did Marshall University's center in Beckley.
Storm totals included 2 feet in the Pendleton County community of Cherry Grove, 19 inches in Millville in Jefferson County and Lehew in Hampshire County, and 18 inches in Harman, Randolph County, preliminary figures from the National Weather Service showed.
Observers reported 17 inches at Craigsville in Nicholas County; 16 inches at Tallmansville in Upshur County and Little Birch in Braxton County; and 15 inches of new snow was on the ground at Bolt in Raleigh County and Cowen in Webster County.
"The roads are all snow-covered, and we're working on plowing and treating the primary roads," Mike Moran, District 8 engineer for the state Division of Highways, said Thursday morning. "We have all available personnel out with snowplows and all of our equipment running, and we still have adequate abrasives and salt storage. It's a bit of a challenge, but we'll continue to plow and treat until the end of the day."
At the state's ski areas, Canaan Valley Resort reported a storm total of 16 inches of new snow on its website, while 14 inches of fresh powder was on the ground at Snowshoe Mountain, in Pocahontas County.
A foot of new snow was being put to use by cross-country skiers at White Grass, a Nordic skiing center in Canaan Valley. A few miles to the north, Timberline Four Seasons Resort also was reporting 12 inches of new snow, as was Winterplace ski area between Princeton and Beckley.