(WFXR) — From residents to road crews, preparations for a weekend winter storm are underway throughout southwest Virginia and central Virginia, and with the amount of snow expected, they’re not stopping any time soon.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Blacksburg has issued a Winter Storm Warning across the New River Valley, the Alleghany Highlands, the Roanoke Valley, Southside, and the Lynchburg region from 10 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30 to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 31.
According to the NWS, snow is expect to start in the area and spread north late Saturday night before it spreads to the entire area and changes over to a wintry mix for areas south of Rout 460 Sunday morning.
The snow will continue later into the day on Sunday, but as warmer air arrives from the south, the NWS expects it will change to sleet and freezing rain for most locations.
By Sunday night, the NWS says there will be additional snow and ice accumulation, especially west of the Blue Ridge, and precipitation lingering into the next day.
With such a winter weather event in the forecast, a major rush at grocery stores is to be expected.
“Today, we really kind of picked up, as people are starting to prepare for the storm,” Randy Wade — store team leader at Earthfare — said on Friday, Jan. 29.
Staff at Earthfare have been busy stocking essential items like milk, eggs, and bread. Meanwhile, the store has already seen an uptick in business, with 15 percent more customers than a typical Friday.
However, that won’t last for long.
“On the frontside, we definitely get a feel for our customers,” said Wade, “but once that winter mix hits, then the business sort of tears off and we want to make sure that everybody needs to be safe.”
While some are rushing to the stores, others are skipping the opportunity.
“I don’t think you need to stock up for weeks on end, because it will end,” said Roanoke resident, Pam Larson.
Crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) were already out and about on the roads on Friday night, but they’ve been at it for several days now with the first snow system that hit southwest Virginia earlier this week.
However, with more snow heading this way comes more preparations.
VDOT began pretreating interstates and major roads — particularly in Botetourt County, Montgomery County, and the rest of the New River Valley — with brine to help equipment operators remove snow more easily, but officials say the subfreezing temperatures are making it difficult to work on the major areas in some counties.
“Because those temperatures are so low in certain areas, we aren’t able to pre-treat,” said Jason Bond with VDOT’s Salem District. “We cannot put out brine solution ahead on the roads if the temperatures are so cold because you risk that material freezing on the road surface.”
The colder temperatures will be a challenge not just for major routes, but secondary and neighborhood roads as well, which VDOT expects to be covered in several inches of snow by Monday.
In weather events like this, VDOT says pre-treating and removing snow from the interstates and primary roads (those 1 to 599) will always be top priority. Therefore, those living in neighborhoods with smaller roads may need to be patient when it comes to clearing them up.
“We are watching the temperatures, the forecast very closely. We are being weather aware, and we encourage folks to do that too,” Bond said.
While officials say they’ll be checking the forecast and adjusting their operations as necessary, as long as the snow continues to fall, snowplow operators will continue to make multiple passes over the main routes instead of working on low-volume secondary routes (those numbered 600 and above) or neighborhood streets.
According to VDOT, crews will work in 12-hour shifts around the clock to plow and treat roads, though those shifts may need to be extended depending on the situation.
As far as supplies go, VDOT is fully stocked and will continue to reorder items like salt and chemicals as needed.
“We will plow and treat roads depending on what Mother Nature brings our way,” said Bond. “We certainly have been working with this last storm, particularly the New River Valley, and we will continue to be working as needed to plow and treat roadways, even with this more major storm.”
However, storm preparation is not just underway in the Roanoke Valley and the New River Valley, but also in central Virginia.
“At this time, we’re anticipating, based on the forecast, that this will begin as snow, so we are doing some pre-treatment of our major roadways — roadways like 501, 29, 460, 58 — so we will be preparing those with a pre-treatment of brine operation. As a matter of fact, trucks just passed right there,” Paula Jones with VDOT’s Lynchburg District said on Friday.
Jones also says department is expecting a cycle of melting and refreezing over several days, so she encourages motorists to be extra careful on the roads and watch out for icing through Wednesday, Feb. 3.
As we enter the weekend, though, VDOT advises people across the Commonwealth to monitor local forecasts and conditions so you can plan ahead and alter your plans if necessary. After all, snow or ice on roadways make it hazardous to travel during a storm.
If you cannot avoid traveling during adverse weather conditions, keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Give crews time to treat roads.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.
- Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds between you and the vehicle ahead of you.
- Brake very lightly to prevent your tires from slipping on the pavement.
- Do not pass snow plows.
- If possible, put off your travel plans until the precipitation stops and road conditions improve.
For more tips for staying safe in a winter storm, click here. You can also find the latest traffic information on VDOT’s 511 website or app.