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Posted December 26, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Slippery roads, sleet, rain greet area drivers after Christmas

By Joe Beck

Snow and sleet slowed traffic in the Northern Shenandoah Valley through Wednesday, but the wintry mix appeared to be passing by mid-afternoon with no signs of road blockages or major accidents.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reported moderate conditions on all road systems, but recommended against any travel that was not "absolutely necessary."
A VDOT news release said road crews and contractors had been on the roads all day and would be plowing and treating roads into the night.

Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler of the Virginia State Police reported minor crashes.

Southbound traffic on Interstate 81 from Winchester to Strasburg was moving at about 40 mph Wednesday morning while speeds on westbound Interstate 66 in Warren County varied between 15 mph and 40 mph.

Officials in Winchester and Frederick County closed government offices Wednesday afternoon in response to hazardous road conditions.

Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, said the precipitation would persist as a cold front moved through the area Wednesday evening. He predicted another half or inch of snow in the Blue Ridge Mountains and another one to three inches of rain or freezing rain.

Witt said the rain should start to ease as the cold front leaves the area after midnight.

The arrival of high pressure will bring windy conditions Thursday with sustained speeds of 20 mph to 25 mph and gusts of 40 mph to 45 mph by early afternoon, Witt said. Temperatures of up to 36 degrees in the late afternoon Wednesday should fall to lows in the upper 20s or low 30s after midnight with highs on Thursday of 38 or 40 degrees, Witt said.

"With that gusty wind, it's going to feel colder," Witt added.

Local law enforcement officials said drivers were coping with conditions on county roads much better than they did on Monday when the first measurable snow of the season arrived.

Officials from the sheriff's offices in Shenandoah and Frederick counties reported scattered vehicles off the road and a decrease in accidents from two days earlier.

Deputy Warren Gosnell, supervisor of the traffic division in the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said 37 crashes were reported on Monday from noon until midnight with 36 of them coming in the period between 1:23 p.m. and 5:23 p.m.

The accident tally from 7:19 a.m. Wednesday until mid-afternoon stood at 13, Gosnell said, not counting any crashes the state patrol may have handled in Frederick County.

Gosnell said deputies were doubling up and riding in four-wheel drive SUVs instead of patrolling alone in their regular squad cars.

"I think it just snuck up on people," Gosnell said of the weather conditions on Monday. "A lot of these crashes we responded to were four-wheel drive vehicles. People get overconfident in the vehicle's capability and maybe their own as well. Before you know it, they're out of control and hanging on for the ride, so to speak."

Lt. Darcy Dellinger of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office also reported that drivers appeared to be adjusting to the slippery roads after a rough Monday.

Dellinger said deputies had responded to one accident and "a couple of cars in ditches that we helped people out of."

Monday was a different story, he said. Eight vehicles were involved in an accident at Bryce around Va. 263 and deputies responded to two other crashes on I-81 around Strasburg, he said.

Dellinger said pavement conditions were worsening Wednesday afternoon.

"I believe it's getting slicker as the day goes on," he said.

Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron of Warren County said snow and ice were making travel "pretty difficult" in Warren County.

McEathron said his department fielded 25 to 30 accident reports on Monday.

"It's nothing we're not used to at this time of year," McEathron said. "Hopefully everybody stays home unless they have to go out."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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