ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (5:15 p.m.):
View from the VDOT traffic camera at Swift Run Gap as of 2:34 p.m. on March 21, showing several vehicles stuck in around 4 inches of snow as crews work to clear the highway.
Both the westbound and eastbound lanes of Route 33 are once again open after an afternoon shutdown amid snowy conditions that stranded up to 75 drivers.
VDOT crews, Virginia State Police troopers, and local wreckers put in a lot of work throughout Thursday afternoon on both the Rockingham and Greene County sides of the mountain to clear out between 50 and 75 vehicles stuck on the highway, including tractor trailers and buses.
The situation began early in the afternoon when snow began rapidly accumulating, catching state agencies off guard.
Colder temperatures than what was forecasted combined with a burst of cold air along higher ridge lines and a more westward track of the storm to turn a lot of rain into snow in the Blue Ridge Mountains, prompting a Winter Storm Warning that remains in effect until 10 p.m.
While the road is back open, it now appears largely as the mountain would on a normal winter snow day, with slick spots and a thin layer of snow in many places.
VDOT crews remain in the area to keep the road clear, but caution is strongly advised for any drivers headed in that direction.
You can learn more about the earlier closure of the highway and the large number of disabled vehicles below.
Wintry weather conditions have shut down Route 33 at the Rockingham/Greene county line on Swift Run Gap.
As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, VDOT listed Route 33 (Spotswood Trail) closed from the county line to Goose Pond Rd (Rt. 625) due to ice and snow, which left dozens of vehicles stuck on the mountain.
It was first closed around 1 p.m. after numerous drivers got stuck.
How did this happen?
This afternoon, as cold air along the higher ridge lines combined with a storm system tracking further west, a lot of rain turned to snow in the Blue Ridge Mountains, leading the National Weather Service to issue a Winter Storm Warning for the entire Blue Ridge.
Overall, across the Valley, actual high temperatures were about 10 degrees cooler than forecasted, resulting in considerably more solid precipitation than initially expected.
WHSV's First Alert Storm Team is predicting between four and eight inches of snow on the Blue Ridge Mountains by the end of the day, and several inches will fall across the Alleghenies Thursday night.
Meteorologists warn drivers to use extreme caution in higher elevations.
The winter storm warning lasts until 10 p.m. It's a heavy wet snow, with large flakes that have been falling in much of the Valley, but accumulating especially in the mountains.
Since the storm began as rain that continued throughout the morning, crews would have been unable to pre-treat the roads, as the brine would have simply been washed away.
What's going on now?
VDOT crews have been deployed to treat and plow roads in all higher elevations, including Rt. 33, Interstate 64, and Skyline Drive, which is closed anywhere beyond the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.
Route 33 and Skyline Drive have been hit, by far, the hardest.
A traffic camera at the scene on Route 33, near the entrance from Rt. 33 to Skyline Drive, showed at least two buses stopped, a loaded tractor trailer on the side of the road and an unloaded one a little farther up, multiple passenger vehicles behind them, and the line of stuck traffic kept going off camera around 1:30 p.m.
As of 2 p.m., Sgt. Brent Coffey, with the Virginia State Police, confirmed that there were 50-75 disabled vehicles on the mountain, with just a few crashes amid the backup.
By 1:55 p.m., the buses initially at the front of the stuck traffic were seen slowly moving along the westbound lanes, with Virginia State Police arriving to the scene to respond.
But the tractor trailers remained stuck as of 3:30 p.m., with several wreckers on scene to work to get them out.
VDOT crews are working to clear about four inches of snow in the area to get the highway reopen across the mountain.
Virginia State Police troopers worked to assist the many drivers caught in the storm. The first calls they received from the mountain began around 12 p.m.
They say there were only a few crashes, with the vast majority of drivers finding themselves stuck due to slick road conditions. No injuries have been reported.
Police, VDOT crews, and wreckers are all working together to clear the dozens of stuck vehicles, treat the road, and then clear the snow to get drivers on their way.
Photos from throughout the road shutdown can be found at the bottom of this article.
It's unclear how long the closure of Rt. 33 will last. Police are turning drivers around at the bottom of the mountain to send them along to different routes and strongly encouraging any drivers to avoid the area if at all possible.
For those who need to get from Rockingham County across the mountain to central Virginia, the next closest options require heading north to Page County or south to Augusta County for other routes, causing a lot of delay either way.
Interstate 64 appears mostly clear – snow is accumulated on the sides of the interstate from about mile marker 95 to 102, where it turns completely bare, but the road is clear. Visibility, however, is low.
Traffic cameras sponsored by VDOT and WVDOT on Route 33 going into West Virginia show a snowy highway as well, but much less covered on that side of the highway, though there have been multiple crashes reported in Pendleton County.
You can find the latest closings and delays from VDOT on their traffic website at 511virginia.org.