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Area prepares for intense winter weather Sunday

Virginia Department of Transportation employees Jimmy Hollar, left, and Randy Hoover carry sets of cable chains outside the Toms Brook headquarters on Friday. Crews will be pretreating roads in anticipation of possible icy weather on Sunday. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

Weather on Sunday may take a nasty turn, with substantial amounts of snow and ice expected. Various groups throughout Virginia are urging residents to prepare for the conditions.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for the area, lasting from Sunday morning though Monday morning.

According to the NWS statement, snow and sleet will start early Sunday before turning into freezing rain, which is expected to last until Monday morning.

Accumulations of about 2 to 4 inches of snow and sleet are expected, along with a quarter of an inch of ice, with more possible.

"Hazardous travel conditions are probable due to slick roads and icy conditions especially along interstate 81 and in valley locations," the statement notes.

Sandy Myers of the Virginia Department of Transportation said VDOT will begin pre-treating the roads as soon as they dry after Friday's rain. The delay, Myers said, will not impact the pre-treatment's efficiency.

"We're well-stocked with all the abrasive and chemicals that we need for the roadway," Myers said. "The crews have been notified that they'll be called in at around four o'clock Sunday morning, unless conditions warrant an earlier start time."

Myers said that, if possible, motorists should stay off the road. If driving is absolutely necessary, she said that VDOT's 511 website, www.511virginia.org, can be used to find out which roads are particularly affected by the weather and where traffic can be especially bad.

Gov. Bob McDonnell's office released a statement Friday that urged Virginians to prepare for "a potentially disruptive early-seasoned winter storm that will affect the Commonwealth this Sunday."

The Virginia Department of Forestry issued a statement, suggesting that residents inspect any trees on their properties that could fall and cause damage under the weight of ice.

John W. Campbell, director of public information for the forestry department, warned that it's important to be alert for falling tree limbs during ice storms.

"A lot of people want to go outside after the storm because it is beautiful. But you want to be listening for those creaking and cracking sounds, and stay away from them," he said.

Some trees are more vulnerable to icy conditions. The forestry department warns that trees "such as maple, willow, cherry and Bradford pear, have more brittle wood and are more likely to break under the weight of ice."

Campbell added that Bradford pears are more prevalent in urban areas and can sometimes cause significant damage. He also commented about ice on electrical wires.

"If you are able to look at it on an electrical wire that runs between two utility poles, a quarter inch of ice on that one line weighs 500 pounds.

"So if you spread that across an entire tree, that is a lot of weight," he said.

Campbell said that some indications that a resident may want to call an arborist include bark peeling away, rotting limbs, or smaller limbs falling down. If a tree looks unable to handle the weight of ice, a certified arborist should be called.

The International Society of Arbor Culture, Campbell suggested, is a good place to start when looking for an insured, certified arborist.

Electric cooperatives throughout the area are preparing for any possible power outages caused by the storm. Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative spokesman Mike Aulgur said they prepare for such events throughout the year.

"We have a robust right-of-way maintenance program that we engage in to keep trees back away from the lines as much as possible," he said.

Ann Lewis of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, said that REC also works all year to prepare for storms.

"The best time to prepare for a power outage is when there's no risk of a storm," she said. "Thinking ahead can give our members piece of mind."

Both cooperatives urge the public to prepare for possible outages before they happen.

Auger recommends taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure personal safety.

"If an individual is on oxygen, for example, we would ask those individuals to take whatever steps necessary to make certain of their safety. Make sure they are prepared," he said.

Aulgur added that SVEC encourages its members to bring extra supplies into their home before storms hit, such as extra blankets and batteries, and filling a bathtub up with water when power outages are possible.

Lewis noted that downed power lines are extremely dangerous. "... so if you see one, stay away, call us and call 911," she said. "And we do suggest that members, if their power is out, not assume that someone else has called to report the outage, just go ahead and report it to us."

Lewis added that some simple steps within the home could help keep even those working on restoring the power lines safe.

"If members are using portable generators should their power go off, do not connect them to the home wiring system or outlets because it could cause high voltage feedback on power lines that could severely injure our workers as they are trying to work on a line," she said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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