By daybreak, Parker said, snow was accumulating much faster than crews could clear it.
Snowfall rates of 3 inches an hour hit the area from Caroline to suburban Washington on Monday morning, an exceedingly rare rate, according to Richmond Times-Dispatch meteorologist Sean Sublette.
Because it was a degree or so above freezing, the snow was heavy and wet. Strong northeast winds meant blowing snow limited visibility for drivers, raising the risk for crashes.
“That was entirely too much for us to keep up with,” Parker said. “The trucks and the cars couldn’t make it up and down the hills because we had too much snow and ice out there.”
The first major snag came when a tractor-trailer derailed from its lane shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, largely blocking passage and creating a chain reaction of stuck vehicles.
Steve Brich, the commissioner of highways at VDOT, said that despite delays, traffic continued to flow along the interstate, “albeit slowly.” By midnight, a long stretch of I-95 had come to a standstill.
Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, a mother of two young boys, was one of the thousands of people suddenly stranded. Aird was on her way back to Virginia from New York state, where her family had spent the holidays.