Motorists asked to use caution in face of winter storm

With snow accumulation of 4-8 inches predicted for the Shenandoah Valley, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia State Police are gearing up for the winter weather.

About 900 VDOT snow plows and contractor trucks have been mobilized in the VDOT Staunton district to handle the storm, which is predicted to last until Tuesday afternoon. Crews will work 12-hour shifts with the goal of removing snow from the roadways within 48 hours after the end of the storm.

VDOT is also recommending motorists avoid traveling on the roadways if possible.

Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesperson, said the bulk of the work would be conducted by plows clearing the roads during and after the storm, rather than pretreating the roads with salt and brine.

“We’re not doing the anti-icing we usually do because the temperatures are too low for that,” Slack said. “Once you get below 20 degrees the pre-treating and the salts are less effective.”

Slack added, “This storm is certainly more of a plow event than a chemical event. Most of the response to this is plowing the roads…we’ll start that as soon as the snow accumulates enough on the road.”

The plows will clean major interstates like Interstates 81 and 66 before moving to roadways like Route 11 and Route 522, then to secondary state roads. Slack said the storm’s timing on President’s Day might contribute to an easier clean up effort.

“Especially in the northern part of our district, you have a lot of folks who commute to federal government jobs and a lot of those folks are off today, so that will help with the evening commute,” Slack said. “Also the school being closed, too, helps with keeping people off the roads.”

Slack said VDOT is “all geared up” for the storm.

“Everybody in this agency knows its all hands on deck when it comes to a winter storm like this,” Slack said. “Everybody from our operators pushing snow to our office staff working on traffic management systems and our safety service response.”

Sgt. F. L. Tyler of the Virginia State Police said the state police would have patrols out to help stranded motorists and to deal with minor accidents during the storm. Tyler said the public should do it’s best to follow recommendations given by VDOT and other state agencies.

“The public is cautioned to heed the warnings from VDOT about travel and preparation for winter weather,” Tyler said.

Jeanette Tejeda de Gomez, a spokesperson with AAA Mid-Atlantic, said while there have been several minor storms to hit the region this season, this storm “provides an impetus” for more caution on the roadways.

“We really haven’t seen a big storm this year,” Gomez said. “We’re looking at nearly a foot in some of the western parts of Virginia. Even you think you’re an advanced driver, it’s certainly not safe conditions to be on the road.”

Gomez also recommended the following tips for motorists:

• Keep a wider following distance: keep the following distance to at least 10 seconds in case the car ahead loses control.

• Be more cautious of bridges and overpasses: Bridges and overpasses freeze first and thaw last.

• Accelerate slowly: Traction is greatest just when the wheel begins to spin. Accelerating slowly gives the car better grip on the road.

• Ease off the pedal: If tires begin to slip or the car goes into a skid, let off the gas pedal to regain control.

• Brake slowly: Slamming the brakes can cause the car to skid.

• Never use cruise control: Save the cruise for the summer time. In icy conditions, the driver needs full control of the vehicle.

• Drive in clear lanes: changing lanes, especially from a clear lane to a snow-covered lane, can cause the vehicle to lose control.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com