Winter is coming, and now is the time to prepare to lessen the impact of inclement weather. There are occasions when conducting government business or services becomes difficult due to challenging weather. Both Stafford County and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) work hard to keep information flowing, so residents know what offices and roads are open or closed. Becoming familiar with information resources ahead of time can help you prepare so that snowstorms, ice or other storms do not slow you down.
How do you know if the County is open for business and what departments may still operate? Most of the information is at your fingertips on Stafford's website at www.staffordcountyva.gov. The County also uses several other channels to engage the community during a weather event or emergency and knowing that ahead of time can save you time later.
Citizens can find information in all the locations below on the County government's opening status, parks facilities, courts and the Regional Landfill. If a receiving center or shelter is opened, information may be found through the resources below.
What about the roads? VDOT knows!
Whether you are a snow lover or the sight of a single snow flurry makes you cringe, be assured that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is ready to face any winter weather conditions that affect travel state-maintained highways.
"We prepare for winter year-round, even in the 90-degree heat of July," said Kyle Bates, P.E., VDOT Fredericksburg Resident Engineer. "Our storage facilities are stocked with sand and salt, and we've tested our equipment and snowplow routes, so we are ready to roll as soon as the forecast calls for snow, ice or a wintry mix. We know Virginia counts on us to keep the roads safe and open for emergency responders and others who must be out in a storm and to clear roads for everyone as quickly as possible to restore travel," Bates said.
Before the Snow Hits
Forecast information from the National Weather Service, road pavement sensors, and supplementary weather information is consulted daily to help the agency prepare for storms.
Pre-treatment solution, or salt brine, can be sprayed onto dry pavement up to 48 hours ahead of storms. This action prevents a bond from forming between the pavement and the snow and ice after the storm starts. If there is no rain preceding a storm, VDOT will pre-treat Interstate 95 and primary roads in Stafford County, and high-volume secondary roads as time permits.
Loose treatment materials, such as sand and salt, are not applied ahead of a storm because traffic and wind will blow them off the surface, making them ineffective. When snow is forecasted, residents can help by parking vehicles in driveways or as far onto the road shoulder as they can. This decision provides the most space for snowplows to remove snow from the travel lanes on passes through the neighborhood.
During the Storm
Snow-removal crews work around the clock until conditions are safe for travel. At night, bridges and ramps, hills and spots prone to icing may be covered with abrasives, such as sand, cinders or fine stone. Beginning around 4:00 a.m., crews prepare the roads for rush-hour traffic. VDOT applies treatment materials once a storm starts to reduce icing, quicken snow and ice melt, and enhance motorists' traction. Plowing will begin when 2 inches of snow or more have accumulated on the road surface. Around 2 inches of snow is needed to start plowing to avoid damaging the road's pavement.
Once plowing is underway, VDOT will activate its online snowplow tracker map at vdotplows. All VDOT-owned and contracted plows will be equipped with Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), allowing them to be monitored on the snowplow tracker.
Road conditions are available on 511Virginia, which is the agency's real-time traffic information website. During winter, residents can check traffic cameras and find roads where hazardous conditions are present in three ratings: minor, moderate and severe. These terms are defined as the following:
Minor: Potential for patches of ice and snow on the roadway; Passable with caution
Moderate: Snow or ice is covering major portions of the roadway; Passable with caution.
Severe: A significant accumulation of snow or ice is blocking the roadway; Conditions are hazardous.
At night, when temperatures drop, VDOT crews pay additional attention to bridges and ramps, hills and curves, and other spots prone to icing. Beginning around 4 a.m. on weekdays, crews prepare the roads for rush-hour traffic, including clearing VDOT Park & Ride lots.
Cleaning Up and Customer Tips
While VDOT cannot provide a precise time, a plow will arrive at a specific address. The agency plows roads in priority order.
If a resident experiences a life-threatening emergency during a storm, please call 911. VDOT coordinates with county emergency responders to plow roads they need to access as part of their duties. Several plows are dedicated to this effort and are staged for quick deployment. And when the plow does arrive at your home, it will, unfortunately, push some snow back into the end of your driveway. To reduce the amount of snow pushed back into your driveway, consider waiting to shovel the area near the road until after a snowplow has cleared your street. Or, when facing the street, shovel to your right.
VDOT Winter Weather Resources:
Additionally, some questions come up during a winter storm that can best be answered by others. Downed trees? Call VDOT at 1 (800)367-ROAD (1 (800) 367-7623). Downed power lines? Call Dominion Energy at 1-866-DOM-HELP or NOVEC at 1(888)335-0500. Another excellent source for weather information is www.ready.gov. The site features preparedness tips for every kind of disaster and how to make it through an event.
The Virginia Department of Transportation – Fredericksburg District office contributed to this article.