By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 15, 2018 | 2:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – After a taste of winter mid-week, much of Central and Southside Virginia received a true dose of snowy weather Sunday as a potent storm brought several inches of snow to much of the southern reaches of the Commonwealth.
The snow started falling early last Sunday morning, prompting many local churches to cancel services in advance of the storm’s arrival, with estimates from the National Weather Service suggesting portions of Southern Virginia were likely to get close to a foot of snowfall along and west of the Interstate 95 corridor.
Ahead of the storm, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency to allow resources to be properly staged and allocated prior to and after the storm leaves the region, such as the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia National Guard and other pertinent agencies.
“I am declaring a state of emergency to ensure localities and communities have appropriate assistance and to coordinate state response to possible snow and ice accumulations, transportation issues, and potential power outages,” the governor said Saturday.
As the snow began falling Sunday, school officials were already conferring and developing a game plan for how or if they will open schools to start the week, particularly in more rural counties where roads can vary in terms of condition and snow clearance from the road surface.
In Prince George, where nearly ten days of school were missed due to inclement weather during the last school year, officials said there is time banked in their annual calendar for weather impacts.
“In Prince George County, we build 10 days into our school calendar based on meeting the hours necessary for both elementary and secondary courses,” Prince George County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff said last week in an interview prior to the storm’s arrival.
She noted, prior to Sunday’s storm, Prince George Schools has missed three days due to weather, but one of those days has already been made up, leaving eight weather days in their calendar as the winter season approaches.
Late Sunday afternoon, the school division made the decision to cancel classes for Monday, with schools remaining closed through Thursday, bringing the number of inclement weather days used this school year to six, given that one of the earlier missed days had been made up, according to school officials.
“Prince George County Public Schools builds this ‘banked time’ into the annual calendar to try to limit the impact of unexpected changes for our families and staff,” Pennycuff explained, adding that the school system has three days in their calendar that have been formally designated as “potential make-up days for inclement weather.”
Last year, since only nine of the school division’s ten inclement weather days were used, Pennycuff said, “The School Board was able to provide students and teachers with an additional day off towards the end of the school year.”
A key factor in determining if a school division can reopen is if roads are passable for buses to safely travel along routes to transport students, a responsibility handled by the VDOT for counties like Dinwiddie, Prince George, and others. Prior to the storm, VDOT held an event where they discussed their resources and response to winter storms while providing demonstrations of how crews apply pre-treatment chemicals and other assets.
According to VDOT officials, the agency’s Richmond District, which includes the counties of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Chesterfield, and hundreds of lane miles of state-maintained roads, such as interstates, has an estimated $15.8 million budgeted for snow removal, with additional funds able to be allocated for snow removal needs.
For this season, the agency said they have over 60,000 tons of salt, 23,000 tons of sand, 15,000 tons of treated abrasives, and 222,000 gallons of salt brine, with all of those supplies being steadily replenished throughout the winter season.
Paired with those supplies is over 1,300 pieces of equipment ranging from plows, spreaders, front-end loaders, motor graders and backhoes.
At the end of the day, all of those assets come together to try to meet the agency’s goal of at least one passable lane on all roads depending on the amount of snow that has fallen within the first 24 to 48 hours, with interstates and primary routes being the first priority.
“Crews first begin clearing interstates, primary roads and major secondary roads that connect important public facilities, such as; emergency services, localities, employment hubs, schools, hospitals, and military posts,” the agency said during last week’s media event. “Secondary roads and subdivisions with lower traffic volumes will be treated during multi-day storms, but the focus first remains on roads that carry the most traffic.”
For VDOT, this week’s storm is the first test of months of their preparation since the end of the last winter season.
“We have stocked up on snow removal supplies and our crews have prepared and tested their equipment. In addition, we’ve updated our plans and augmented our crews with private contractors to ensure a safe and timely snow removal process for the approximately 18,000 lane miles in our district,” said Sean Nelson, District Maintenance Engineer.
This same storm system started along the West Coast early last week, dumping heavy rain across much of California, bringing with it the risk of mudslides as the state recovers from historic and deadly wildfires. As it moved across the United States, the storm produced a mix of winter weather and severe storms across the Midwest and Gulf Coast.