Winter storm on its way

Published 1:20 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

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With a hazardous weather outlook for the region related to the stronger chances of snow and winter weather, the Western Tidewater region was preparing to deal with whatever comes its way.

The National Weather Service forecast as of Wednesday morning called for rain Thursday that was expected to change to snow in the afternoon and evening following an Arctic cold front, with a second round of precipitation, likely snow, expected later in the day Friday going into Saturday morning.

The forecast for the Western Tidewater area called for rain to start after 4 p.m. Thursday, with temperatures earlier in the day reaching near 50 degrees before falling to around 36 later in the day.

In the evening, rain was expected to continue through around 8 p.m. before mixing with snow and possibly freezing rain between 8 and 9 p.m. before changing to all snow after 9 p.m. New snow accumulation of less than a half-inch is possible, with a forecasted low temperature of 25.

On Friday, snow was expected to begin after 1 p.m. with a high temperature near 30, with new snow accumulations between 1 to 3 inches possible. Snow was expected to continue falling into Friday evening, possibly mixing with sleet before 8 p.m., with a low around 23 and new precipitation amounts between a quarter and a half inch possible.

There is a chance of snow before noon Saturday, with a high near 34.

VDOT said it has begun pretreating interstates, primary and high volume secondary roads in the Hampton Roads District, with crews gathering material and loading equipment to prepare for the impending winter storms. It also has additional equipment loaded with plows and spreaders on standby. With high winds possible, it also will have crews on standby to assist with downed trees, branches and debris that may fall on roads.

According to VDOT Hampton Roads District maintenance manager William Collier, it has about 250 pieces of equipment at its disposal — state and contractor-owned — to deal with winter weather. He said there are contingency plans to bring in resources from other parts of the state if needed and go elsewhere if needed.

The district extends north to James City County and includes the Eastern Shore, goes into Western Tidewater to Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Surry County and beyond to Emporia and Interstate 95. It includes more than 160 interstate miles, 730 miles of primary roads, 4,000 miles of secondary roads and 4,700 miles of urban roads.

The agency has seen higher-than-normal vacancy rates, Collier said, and its contractors have been busy with construction work. It means VDOT has to continually recruit for employees and contractors to serve it.

“VDOT and our contractors have faced the same personnel shortages that other people have faced,” Collier said in a December interview, “so we’re making additional contingency plans to share resources more.”

He said VDOT prioritizes routes it serves, and will shift staff around as needed, prioritizing interstates and primary roads first followed by secondary roads and neighborhood streets, with the goal of reaching them within 48 hours after a storm ends.

VDOT also has its own weather service it contracts with that deals more specifically with road surface temperatures. It also has sensors embedded in roads to provide surface temperatures and monitors how they change based on sun or cloud cover in those areas. It also has sensors in its trucks as well as handheld sensors to check bridge deck temperatures.

The agency advises people to go to or download the VDOT 511 Virginia Travel app for the latest road conditions, to brake lightly to keep tires from slipping on the road and to have an emergency winter weather kit in vehicles, including water, food, first aid materials, tools and blankets in case of a breakdown or extended stoppage.

People can also call VDOT’s 24-hour customer service center at 800-367-7623 to report road hazards or ask road-related questions, and the agency is on Twitter @VaDOTHR and @511hamptonroads. It has also partnered with Waze to allow people to report, and learn about, unplowed roads in real-time through the app.