Prepping for winter weather

Officials: Stay home, keep off roads
Sue Shipp, of Strasburg, settles for a pair of quart containers of milk as shelf supplies ran out of gallon containers Thursday afternoon at Food Lion in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg Food Lion associate Trent Davis moves a pallet of food supplies Thursday as employees worked to restock shelves after a flurry of shoppers came through on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

As the Northern Shenandoah Valley faces the possibility of more than 2 feet of snow this weekend in the midst of a state of emergency, local, regional and state authorities all agree on some age-old sound advice: Stay at home and keep off the roads.

The basics

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the area from 1 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Sunday, as of publication, and snow accumulation could range from 18 to 30 inches.

Ashley Sears, a meteorologist with the Baltimore/Washington National Weather Service Forecast Office, said the southern reaches of Shenandoah County could see snow starting to fall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while Warren County could get its first flakes from 1 to 3 p.m. She said the precipitation will be light at first and then become heavier in the evening. Snow could fall at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour at peak snowfall times tonight into Saturday morning.

The blizzard warning in effect for the Washington, D.C., metro area further east doesn’t quite reach the Interstate 81 corridor, but Sears said the area could see gusts of up to 35 miles per hour and steady winds around 15 to 20 miles per hour. Temperatures will dip down into the lower 20s tonight and stay in the 20s Saturday.

While Sunday and the beginning of next week will see more sun and warmer temperatures, Sears said nightly conditions could create hazards later on.

“By Sunday, you’re going to see temps rising above freezing, but then at night they’ll go down below freezing,” she said. “It’s going to take time for it to clear up.”

Roads and safety precautions

Sandy Myers, VDOT’s Staunton District communications manager, said crews began laying down anti-icing brine along interstates and major roadways at 11 a.m. Thursday and 1,000 pieces of equipment manned by 2,000 workers would be plowing and salting roads during the storm across the 11-county district. During that time, she said the process is made easier when accidents and other drivers don’t impede road crews.

Myers said that another major challenge to making roads drivable will be the rapid rate of snowfall.

“Our biggest advice to everybody is: please do not travel, just stay off the roads,” she said. “We understand it’s going to be a very, very heavy snowfall and it is going to take some time for the plows to get to all the roads.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic echoed that notion in a news release, which is packed with safety tips for those who absolutely need to travel in the risky conditions and can be read at http://tinyurl.com/j768yrh.

“Some workers will risk their lives to get to work and others will become stranded, so you have to have a ‘plan B,'” the organization’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs John Townsend II stated in the release.

Because of the state of emergency, Cotton Puryear, spokesman for the Virginia National Guard, said many soldiers will be staged at the Winchester Armory to provide high mobility transportation and help with clearing debris as the storm goes on.

“The goal is that tomorrow morning, when the weather starts to fall,” he said on Thursday, “we’ll have personnel and equipment that (are) ready to respond if local officials need them.”

Local personnel have prepared for the storm by collaborating their efforts, and public safety officials may set up an emergency operations center. Capt. Wesley Dellinger of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office also recommended people stay off the road during the storm.

“We’re trying to make all our resources as available as needed,” he said. “We had a meeting today with Gary Yew and members of fire and rescue and other department heads. … We’re still monitoring the storm, and we’re working closely with those folks.”

Preparations

In preparation to area residents spending at least a few days cooped up inside, grocery stores and supermarkets in the area saw a rush of shoppers. The attorney general’s office announced in a Thursday news release that Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act took effect after Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency earlier in the day.

Benny Smith, spokesperson for Food Lion, said shoppers began stockpiling supplies at stores as early as Tuesday, and many stores have received daily shipments to keep in-demand products in stock. Strasburg store manager Jeff Cope said milk, bread and eggs were in high demand and his location had been stocking plenty of water, pet food, snacks and paper products.

Shopper Donna Fraser said she always keeps her home in Strasburg well-stocked, and her trip to the store on Thursday was simply routine.

“I cook anyway, all the time. Tonight and tomorrow, I’ll be doing things in the crock pot so all I have to do is heat them up,” she said. “I’m from Maine – I’m prepared all the time. We learned how to last for a little while, anyway.”

Steve Renner said he was shopping from a five-page list drawn up by seven family members who are traveling to his home in Strasburg to wait out the storm there. He said the haul in his shopping cart would usually be big enough to last him four months, but it might last his guests one week.

“I’ve got a lot of snacks for the kids, so they’re happy,” he said. “I’ve got plenty of sandwich food, a lot of meals … I’ve got a little bit of everything.”

Workers at Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative are standing by for possible outages in the area. Rappahannock’s Public Relations Specialist Brian Wolfe said the cooperative has been preparing for the storm all this week. Mike Aulgur, Shenandoah’s manager of executive affairs, said wind and wetter conditions later in the storm would pose the biggest threat to outages.

“From our perspective, high moisture content snow is worse for us than fluffy snow … and ice, obviously, is even worse,” he said.

A number of fires have broken out in Warren County because of cold weather-related fire hazards, and safety precautions should be taken during power outages. Wolfe said those with generators shouldn’t plug them into wall outlets and should keep them outdoors with plenty of ventilation to reduce fire and carbon monoxide risks. Likewise, he said those without power should favor flashlights over candles.

“Candles are obviously a big fire hazard – we’re starting to see a lot less of that,” he said. “If the lights go out, turn appliances and everything off … because that overload, once the power comes back on, could pose a hazard as well.”

School closings

• Shenandoah County Public Schools will be closed today and 12-month employees are to report to work on time. The School Board offices will close at 11 a.m.

• Warren County Public Schools will be closed today.

• Frederick County Public Schools will be closed on today. SAT test sessions at Millbrook and James Wood high schools will be postponed until Feb. 20.

Keep track of updates

• Report any traffic hazards by calling 1-800-367-7623 and monitor current traffic conditions at http://www.511virginia.org/, http://www.vdotplows.org/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VaDOTStaunton.

• Report any outages by calling 1-800-234-7832 (SVEC), 800-552-3904 (Rappahannock) and monitor outages by visiting http://tinyurl.com/hgahxh8 (SVEC), http://tinyurl.com/hjl39e2 (Rappahannock), or http://tinyurl.com/o98yxs3 (Dominion).

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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