NORFOLK, Va. — A powerful winter blast of snow and cold seldom seen in Virginia barreled through the state’s coastal cities Thursday, and much of the region could remain in the storm’s stranglehold for days.

Jen Edwards, 46, of Norfolk, said she’s never seen so much snow in Hampton Roads.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she said. “It really doesn’t happen that often.”

Edwards runs human resources for ADS Inc., a Virginia Beach-based government contractor that provides gear and equipment to the military and other agencies.

She said she “got to play Santa Claus” after the company made the rare decision to close for the day, allowing workers at two massive warehouses to stay home.

As the snow came down, at least one man strapped on skis to get bagels for his family.

“It’s like ‘Yay, I get to go out,'” said Mark Schoenenberger, 45, a NASA engineer who cross-country skied to Yorgo’s Bageldashery in Norfolk for a sack of bagels.

With snow whipping past Yorgo’s on Thursday morning, owner Greg Peterman was keeping things in perspective.

“If this were a hurricane, my hair would be turning gray,” Peterman said.

The 44-year-old said his last home in low-lying Norfolk was flooded twice during hurricanes. He had stacked sandbags and stressed out about flood insurance.

“This is more workable,” he said after driving to Yorgo’s in his SUV. “I’m more thinking about going home and playing with my child and my dog.”

Not that Virginia escaped the so-called bomb cyclone. It shuttered schools, government offices and businesses. Nearly all flights were canceled at Norfolk International Airport. About 45,000 residents lost power and more than 100 drivers stalled or crashed on roads.

Jonathan Rogers, 30, and his brother, Jason Mitchell, 35, got stuck about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from their Norfolk home after working overnight at a local hospital.

Mitchell, a cook, said they were prepared for a 30-minute walk. But he said his girlfriend insisted they drive.

The snow trapped their Hyundai Accent at least twice — once just feet from some often-used train tracks.

“I knew this would happen,” Mitchell said.

The U.S. Navy required only “mission essential” personnel in the region to report for duty, including those at the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk.

Among them was Thomas Carrico, 25, who serves on the USS Vella Gulf, a guided missile cruiser.

The ship gets hot when it sails into the Middle East, he said, and equally cold in winter weather.

“It’s like a giant cooler because it’s all metal,” he said with a shrug. “You give and you take.”

Thursday’s weather was relatively warm — the low was forecast at 10 degrees (-12 Celsius) — compared with what’s to come. The temperature is expected to fall to a low of about 5 degrees (-15 Celsius) Saturday, keeping 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of snow on the ground.