By Joe Beck
Winter makes its official debut in about two weeks, but state and local officials have been readying themselves for the arrival of ice and snow for months.
The Virginia Department of Transportation conducted rehearsals for its road crews while trees still rustled with lush green leaves. Other agencies have been performing maintenance on road equipment and briefing snowplow drivers on their routes.
Jim Didawick, superintendent of public works in Woodstock, spoke confidently of his community's ability to clear streets with a fleet of 11 trucks outfitted with plows.
"We feel right now like we're in a good place in terms of drivers and in terms of equipment unless we get something that's going to dictate drastic change," he said. "What we have we feel works and works very well."
Mark Gunderson, only a few months into his job as Strasburg's director of public works, said he is ready to pre-treat roadways with a saltwater solution, a new method in the town's efforts to keep streets free of snow and ice.
"We're excited about how that's going to save money and manpower when the snow hits," Gunderson said.
Strasburg's plan for pre-treating roads follows VDOT's adoption of the practice several years ago.
Sandy Myers, a spokeswoman for the agency, said pre-treatment is a key part of the agency's goal to have all state-maintained roads passable within 48 hours after the end of a storm.
"If we were to get a storm forecast tonight, we would know what to do," Myers said of her agency's preparations.
VDOT's snow-removal budget of $145 million is a major increase over the $126 million available for last year's mild winter. The agency spent only $63.8 million of that sum with the remainder going to maintenance, according to an agency news release.
The balmy winter followed two of memorable severity in which VDOT spent $207 million and $266.8 million.
The National Weather Service is cautious about predicting winter weather months in advance, but Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's office cited Bill Sammler, a weather service meteorologist, who foresees "a greater number of opportunities for low pressure systems to track nearby compared to last winter."
Temperatures will determine whether a low-pressure system will bring snow or a sloppy mix of snow and ice, according to Sammler.
Front Royal Town Manager Steve Burke said he was expecting three to eight inches of snow this year, based on predictions in the Farmer's Almanac.
"We're not anticipating a significant event, but we would be ready for it," Burke said.
McDonnell, who has proclaimed Dec. 2 through Dec. 8 as winter preparedness week, warned citizens that depending too heavily on state and local agencies during severe weather could be dangerous.
"Over the past 14 months, the commonwealth has suffered through extended power outages resulting from warm weather systems like hurricanes and derechos," McDonnell said in a news release. "We hope all Virginians have taken note of these storms and will now take steps to be ready for the storms that winter could bring."
The state Department of Emergency Management has compiled a list of tips for surviving winter storms. It includes:
- Keeping a well-insulated home and weather stripping around doors and windowsills.
- Making sure an emergency supply kit is available before a storm hits.
- Ensuring the availability of clothing and blankets.
- Filling vehicle gas tanks.
- Remaining indoors with a survival plan for several days under severe conditions.
- Storing wood in a fireplace, if one is available.
- Follow proper safety measures when using generators or space heaters
Myers of VDOT warned that people should pay attention to weather forecasts, stay off the roads, if possible, during storms and try to find a safe place to stay until conditions improve.
"People really need to heed that," she said. "Sometimes that weather can come in very quickly and start accumulating a lot of snow and ice on the road very quickly."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org