VDOT Ready to Tackle Virginia’s Wintry Roads

By Amie Knowles
November 11, 2020

Get out the chains; snow’s on the way.

RICHMOND – Old Man Winter’s not too far off in the distance. Sure, the beautiful, bright, vibrant fall colors might suggest otherwise. However, by the weekend, lows dip into the 30s in several parts of the state.

While there’s no winter weather in the forecast yet, it depends on where in the state folks reside as to when it might come. For the mountains, it’s not out of the question to see a few flurries in November. Closer to the coast, a January snow sometimes starts the New Year.

Virginia’s snow season began in October in 1979. On the 10th day of the month, the Reagan National Airport and the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport both reported 0.3 inches. There were 1.3 inches at Dulles International Airport.

Virginia typically experiences snowfall in March. However, an April snowfall isn’t out of the question. From April 3 to April 6, 1987, a weather station in Dickenson County reported a whopping 36 inches of snow.

Winter is coming

Gearing up for whatever 2020 might offer in the winter category, the Virginia Department of Transportation recently readied their fleet.

This year, VDOT cares for over 128,000 lane miles of state-maintained roads. They have more than 11,300 pieces of snow removal equipment. There’s more than 690,000 tons of salt, sand and treated abrasives. VDOT has more than 2.1 million gallons of liquid calcium chloride and salt brine. Last but not least, there’s a total of $211 million set aside for the 2020-21 winter weather season.

With more than 2,500 crew members and additional contractors available for snow removal statewide, VDOT plans to tackle whatever snowball this winter throws. In part, that’s because winter thoughts don’t fade away. Even in 100-degree weather, VDOT still plans for wintry weather. As the season approaches, they finalize their strategies.

“VDOT prepares for winter year-round, and each fall VDOT’s local offices complete final preparations to ensure staffing, equipment and materials are in place and ready to go when winter arrives,” said Jenny O’Quinn, VDOT communications manager.

A statewide response

While most Virginians think about the mountains receiving the most snowfall, VDOT covers all nine of the state’s regions for winter weather concerns.

O’Quinn noted that the department looks at trends and data from past years when determining the state’s best winter weather approach.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation bases its annual budget for winter weather on snow removal expenditures from the three previous years. VDOT partners with [Data Transmission Network and Dataline] on local and regional weather forecasting throughout the year,” O’Quinn said. “Each event is considered when a forecast may determine VDOT’s response.”

Helpful tools

People aren’t the only ones monitoring snowy and icy road conditions. Computers, sensors and other useful objects also help keep VDOT staff and Virginia residents informed.

Across the state, if snow reaches two inches or more, VDOT activates an online snowplow tracking map. Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technology operates statewide. All VDOT-owned and contracted plows come equipped with AVL, which allows monitoring on the snowplow tracker. 

There are also dozens of sensors in roadways and bridges that alert VDOT when road surfaces dip below a certain temperature.

“A statewide network of 77 weather sensors in roadways and bridges allows VDOT maintenance crews to quickly identify when and where road surfaces might be freezing,” O’Quinn said.

Stay off the roads

VDOT urged that during winter, it is important to regularly monitor weather forecasts and have a winter weather driving plan ahead of time.

When possible, it’s best to simply remain home when forecasters call for wintry weather.

“The safety of the traveling public and of the agency’s employees and partners is always the top priority for VDOT,” O’Quinn said. “Motorists should avoid unnecessary travel during winter weather, and those who must travel should have a winter weather driving plan.”

O’Quinn further encouraged motorists to visit 511virginia.org or to call 511 for up-to-date information on road and traffic conditions before traveling, especially during unfavorable weather conditions.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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