VDOT preps for winter weather

Rebekah Collins, of Front Royal, takes her daughters Sofia, left, 2, and Colette, 1, right, for a stroll along the Eastham Park Trail on a spring-like day Wednesday as temperatures hit the 50-degree mark. Rich Cooley/Daily

Virginia Department of Transportation trucks and contractors pretreated Interstates 81 and 66, as well as primary roads in Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties on Wednesday in anticipation of possible snow showers today.

VDOT laid 65,000 to 70,000 gallons of brine and salt on the roads, said Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesperson. Slack said the pretreatment only occurred in the three northern counties of the Staunton VDOT district.

The decision to pretreat the roads is a “tough call,” Slack said.

“If there’s a chance we could have some snow that could impact and we have the resources to do it, we’re going to pretreat,” he said. “It’s not a decision we make lightly because we actually call in some contractors to do the work.”

Slack said the choice to pretreat the roads depends on multiple factors.

“We look at several forecasts and based off the information we have, we make the call,” Slack said. “It’s based on precipitation, the timing of the weather, if it starts as rain and switches to snow, so there’s a lot that goes into it.”

He said the decision to pretreat the roads comes from the district’s road maintenance engineers, after they consult the National Weather Service forecasts and a special forecast by a contracted company that focuses on ground temperature.

As of Wednesday evening, the National Weather Service forecast reports there is a 20 percent chance of precipitation after 4 a.m. Thursday morning, with temperatures peaking at 27 degrees and wind as high as 37 miles per hour.

Brian Lasorsa, a meteorologist with the weather service, said while he is “at this point not confident that there will be enough snow” for issues to arise during the morning commute, even a little bit of snow could wreak havoc on the roadways.

“If there is a snow shower during rush hour [today], if it were to happen, even if it’s a 10th of an inch, it could cause severe problems,” Lasorsa said. “Since the temperature is supposed to drop [today], there could be freezing.”

However, Wednesday’s high of 54 degrees means the pavement may stay at above freezing temperatures, Lasorsa said.

“I think the pavement temperature is somewhere in the 60s, because of the sun,” Lasorsa said. “But I’m sure the subsurface is much colder and when you lose the sun, the pavement might hover somewhere in the 30s overnight, but I still think it would be above freezing.”

Lasorsa added, “If the snow falls [today], it will probably melt at first but if we were to get enough snow, it would freeze. But at this point, I think there is a better chance that doesn’t happen than it does happen … you might not even see anything.”

Today’s wind could actually prevent freezing conditions on the roads, Lasorsa said.

“The good news is with it being windy, if it were to snow for an hour and move on, the wind would blow the snow away before it had a chance to freeze,” Lasorsa said.

Slack said the ice and brine supplies in the district are much higher than last year’s winter.

“Last winter was relentless and there were times where we were getting down close to where we had concerns with the supplies,” Slack said. “We haven’t had anything even close to that this year.”

He said the road pretreatment is a precautionary measure.

“With anti-icing, you put the salt down on the roadways one time before the storm whether it’s supposed to snow for three hours or three days,” Slack said. “The chemical supplies come into play when temperatures are right around freezing.”

He added, “We try to plan for these things the best we can but sometimes the forecast hasn’t borne out.”

The VDOT Staunton district oversees 7,000 miles of roads in Alleghany, Bath, Rockbridge, Augusta, Highland, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Frederick, Page, Warren and Clarke counties.

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