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Snow preparations start early

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A woman makes her way in the rain across the parking lot outside KMart in Front Royal on Wednesday afternoon. Forecasters were calling for the rain to turn to snow by night, with accumulations of 2 to 4 inches. Rich Cooley/Daily

Local road crews and ice removal teams on alert as system moves through region

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A storm bearing rain, snow, high winds and sub-freezing temperatures sent local snow and ice removal teams into high alert as it descended on the Northern Shenandoah Valley on Wednesday.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory and flood warning. The forecast as of mid-afternoon called for rain and snow until 11 p.m. and a chance of snow between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., with accumulations of 2 to 4 inches in the valley and 3 to 5 inches at elevations above 1,000 feet.

It was the first storm to test state and local governments' winter weather preparedness since a heavy snowfall struck unexpectedly in late October.

Government officials said they were confident of their preparations. All said their plans for combating snow and ice are essentially the same as usual, despite the hardships and disruptions imposed by recent harsh winters.

"I made the call this morning to bring one of our snow crews in this evening," said Tom Denney, division manager for public works in Winchester.

The only new equipment will be some stainless steel spreaders used to lay down abrasive materials on slippery pavement.

"Other than that, nothing has changed from last year," Denney said.

Jimmy Hannigan, acting director of public works in Front Royal, said work crews would make primary roadways their first priority and then work their way onto neighborhood streets.

"We do ask people to park in their driveways instead of the street so we can get the streets plowed from curb to curb," Hannigan said.

Front Royal motorists pilloried town officials in February 2010 for what they saw as lax snow removal efforts during a storm in which precipitation fell at a rate of 1 to 3 inches per hour.

Hannigan said his crews had "gone through everything in October" to prepare for winter storms.

"Today we did get everything dressed down to make sure it was all working," he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation deployed six work crews of six or seven members each to cover highways in Shenandoah, Frederick, Clarke and Warren counties. Agency officials refused to talk about their plans for coping with the next three or four months of winter weather until they conduct a pair of news conferences scheduled for next week in Harrisonburg and White Post.

Marshall Barnhill, a spokeswoman for the agency, said there was ample salt available.

Barnhill said the Department of Transportation was ready when the October snowstorm hit "and once we do that, we always reorder and refill our supplies" of salt, she said.

"I don't think there's going to be a lot of accumulation this evening, but the forecast keeps changing throughout the day," Barnhill said.

Bob Childress, Warren County's deputy administrator, said crews were working to prepare equipment and plows and ensure salt supplies were "topped off."

"I think we're prepared as we can be at this point," Childress said. "The forecast has been a little iffy, but we'll continue to keep our eye on it and mobilize as conditions dictate.

"Even if we do get some snow, we're hopeful that the majority of it will melt."

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative issued a press release urging residents to stay away from trees that land on power lines. Instead of clearing the debris, residents should note the location and other important factors about the damage and contact the cooperative immediately at 800-234-7832, utility officials said.

Natalie Miller, manager of Solenberger's Hardware in Winchester, said she had been doing a brisk business in snow shovels and ice melt "but we still have plenty left."

Ronnie Dodson, owner of Skyline Service Center in Front Royal, said the demand for snow tires has virtually disappeared in recent years as most people have chosen to keep their factory radials on all year.

Dodson said he had sold zero snow tires Wednesday, a trend he did not regard as wise for winter driving.

"All-season radials aren't aggressive enough to be run in snowstorms," he said.

Shenandoah County Administrator Douglas C. Walker said his county relies mostly on the state Department of Transportation for clearing public roads.

He said the county's main focus is around county offices and trash disposal sites "so people can throw trash away."

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