As first storm approaches, VDOT ready for winter

STEPHENS CITY – Just in time for what may be the region’s first winter storm, the Virginia Department of Transportation addressed keeping the roads open this winter during its annual snow preparedness news conference on Tuesday.

STEPHENS CITY – Just in time for what may be the region’s first winter storm, the Virginia Department of Transportation addressed keeping the roads open this winter during its annual snow preparedness news conference on Tuesday.

Starting late tonight through all day Thursday and into Friday, the region could see a mixture of freezing rain, sleet, and snow, according to Jeremy Geiger, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in its Sterling office.

“Thursday is the main concern,” Geiger said, adding that how much and how widespread is still in question.

The VDOT Edinburg Residency, which oversees roads in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, and Warren counties, is monitoring weather models to see what develops.

Crews for the department do not anticipate being able to pre-treat the roads for this storm because the rain would wash it away, said Ed Carter, Edinburg Residency administrator. Pre-treatment is a form of anti-icing where chemicals are put on the road up to 48 hours before a storm to keep snow and ice from bonding to the road.

Ken Slack and Sandy Myers, both VDOT spokespersons, were with Carter at the residency’s Stephens City headquarters on Tuesday discussing winter preparations.

Slack said he had trepidation for Thursday, noting that because of the wet summer and fall, people are used to seeing wet roads and are not thinking about winter driving, lower temperatures or black ice.

He advised drivers to slow down and watch for black ice.

The projected long-term forecast for the 2018-2019 winter season is based on models that show wetter than normal conditions. Initially, the temperatures were projected to be colder than normal but recently VDOT has been hearing about projections that  temperatures will be above normal.

Carter said VDOT officials review the latest models of multiple winter weather forecasts and look at the average weather for the last three years to try to anticipate what they may face in a winter season. Ultimately, however, these are only models and it is a matter of dealing with the storm that is happening that day, he said.

“You treat each individual storm. That is how you have to do it,” Carter said. “Each storm has its own personality.”

The Staunton District is budgeted at $15.6 million for snow removal for the upcoming winter season, the same as last year. Virginia has budgeted $205 million for snow removal for the state, Myers said.

Crews work 12-hour shifts during a storm, clearing roads first on the interstate and primary roads before moving to secondary roads.

When 2 to 4 inches of snow have fallen, VDOT crews will make one pass on all roads within 24 hours. When 4 to 6 inches of snow have fallen, crews will make one pass on all roads within 48 hours.  When more than 6 inches of snow has fallen, they will make one pass on all roads, but it make take longer than 48 hours, Myers said.

Everyone agreed that the main objective is to make sure everyone – drivers and VDOT employees – get home safe.

“They work long hours and I tell them that sometimes they don’t get enough praise, and that they do not know how many people get home safe to their families because of their work,” Carter said.

WINTER DRIVING TIPS

• Go to www.511virginia.org for statewide highway information 24 hours a day.

• Have your vehicle checked including brakes, tires, battery, ignition, windshield wipers, and de-icing washer fluid.

• Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car.

• Keep your windows, mirrors, and lights clear of snow and ice.

• Wear your seat belt.

• Leave a few minutes early.

• Start out slowly in the lowest gear recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

• If possible, do not travel during winter storms.