A winter blanket
In like a lion, March has brought the Northern Shenandoah Valley a winter storm that dropped 8 to 10 inches of snow Thursday.
While many motorists opted for a snow day at home, some ventured out onto the snow-covered roads.
The Virginia Department of Transportation reported that a tractor trailer fire at mile marker 315 on Interstate 81 closed both northbound lanes between exits 313 and 317 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Virginia State Police Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler said the fire began due to a mechanical failure that the driver caught in the nick of time.
“He heard a noise and pulled over and all his gauges were fluctuating, indicating a problem,” Tyler said. “He got out of the truck and saw it was catching fire and called 911.”
Tyler said the fire resulted in no injuries to the driver and that the truck was removed from the roadway by 3 p.m. VDOT, he said, had to plow the road before allowing traffic to resume.
Tyler said there were other minor accidents around the area during the storm, including a tractor trailer that struck a guard rail and blocked the left southbound lane of Interstate 81 between Strasburg and Toms Brook from 7:20 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tyler said there were no injuries from the crash.
A news release from Corinne Geller, state police public relations director, noted that from midnight to 4 p.m. Thursday troopers and dispatchers reported receiving 1,155 calls statewide, with 491 involving crashes and 222 disabled vehicles. In the Culpeper Division, which serves this area, troopers were called out to 63 traffic crashes and 52 disabled vehicles.
According to the National Weather Service, snow fell as temperatures dropped to a high of 29 degrees with a north wind at 7 to 10 miles per hour. Thursday night, temperatures were expected to drop into the single digits, with wind chills at minus 7.
Chris Strong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Thursday’s snowstorm tracked the way the service had expected.
“We were expecting the rain to continue and switch over to snow sometime between the late night or the early morning,” Strong said. “We saw those predictions come to pass.”
Heather Sheffield, a meteorologist with the service, said the storm’s main band came across the region as predicted, with sleet affecting areas south such as Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. The snow started to wind down around 4 p.m, Sheffield said.
Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the service, said measurements of accumulation were forthcoming, however, at the time of publication, Stephens City received 9 inches and Linden 8.8 inches. He did not have a measurement for Shenandoah County, however the service had predicted 8 to 10 inches.
At VDOT, 900 pieces of equipment were deployed throughout the Staunton District on Wednesday night, with each of the three residencies fully staffed. The agency also deployed tow trucks at 13 of its interchanges along Interstates 81 and 64 in case of accidents.
Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesperson, said while the storm started a little later than expected, it did “shape up to what we prepared for.”
Slack said one major concern for the timing of the snow was that it might have given motorists “a false sense of security.”
“People might have gotten up and seen how it was raining outside and went about their morning routine to work, but might be in for a slippery, snowy commute on their way home,” Slack said.
VDOT’s stated goal with any winter event is to “have all state maintained roads passable within 48 hours after the storm ends.” Slack said crews will be working diligently to clear the snow Thursday night.
“With temperatures dropping so low tonight, we’ll be pushing hardest to get as much cleaned up as we can,” Slack said Thursday. “This is a wet, heavy snow and we expected conditions to turn icy.”
Slack said a number of roads were closed due to flooding or icy conditions during the storm in Warren and Shenandoah counties.
“There’s probably about eight to 10 low water bridges … in those counties that tend to flood over during a rain event like the one that came before the storm,” Slack said. “A lot of times folks in those areas know and avoid those areas.”
Woodcock said going into the weekend, with temperatures swinging up into the 40s, he did not expect flooding to sweep the area during the melt.
“Flooding is only a concern when there are a bunch of ice jams, ice over the water, that melts and causes rivers and streams to rise,” Woodcock said. “We don’t anticipate too much of that happening, nor do we expect the snow melting to cause any flooding.”
Slack said the snow removal efforts during the storm were successful.
Power held out around the region, where area electric companies reported few if any outages.
Every storm brings its own unique challenges, said Mike Aulgur, vice president of external affairs for Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, but so far this storm had a mild effect on power for area residents.
“I think there are zero outages at this point,” Aulgur said late Thursday afternoon.
He attributed the good fortune to a combination of luck and preventative measures, which include routine removal of branches growing too close to power lines that may snap off during a storm.
“We try to take care of that throughout the year,” he said.
He reminded residents to remain safe during storms by staying indoors if it’s too dangerous to drive and by not trying to remove obstacles like large tree branches themselves.
He added that storms that have the greatest effect on area electric companies tend to include wind, ice or heavy wet snow.
Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com