By MELINDA WILLIAMS
An abundance of sunshine returned to the area Friday, giving Pulaski County residents an opportunity to start digging out from under the nearly two feet of snow that has shut down offices and businesses and paralyzed much of the East Coast since Wednesday.
While Virginia Department of Transportation was reporting Interstate 81 and other primary roads in Pulaski County to be in minor condition Friday morning, with isolated spots of snow, ice or slush, other roads were still snow or ice covered and snow tires or chains were recommended.
Traffic cameras along the interstate in Pulaski County showed bare pavement and traffic moving without problems late Friday morning. That wasn’t the case Thursday night.
According to VDOT spokesman Jason Bond, a portion of the interstate near mile marker 103 had to be shut down around 9 p.m. so road crews could treat ice build-up on the interstate. Traffic was moving intermittently by midnight, but it was nearly 4 a.m. Friday before normal flow was restored.
This 15-mile backup was just one of several on the interstate since snow started to fall Wednesday. Although the snowfall was lighter Thursday, it didn’t stop until late Thursday afternoon.
Virginia State Police First Sgt. Mike Honaker said the heavy snow “presented a significant public safety and transportation challenge for the Virginia State Police and local law enforcement agencies” both Wednesday and Thursday.
As of 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Honaker said, troopers based out of the Dublin office had investigated 24 vehicle crashes in Pulaski and Giles counties. Thankfully, only minor injuries and property damage was reported.
Local troopers also assisted another 33 motorists whose vehicles became stuck, stranded or disabled, said Honaker.
Pulaski County Sheriff Jim Davis said his officers responded to 60 vehicle-related incidents, in addition to normal assistance calls, between about 2 p.m. Wednesday and daylight Friday. More than 20 incidents involved motor vehicle accidents and some degree of injury occurred in at least six of those.
As of Friday afternoon, Davis said, there were still a number of vehicles that needed to be pulled out of ditches, but many roads were becoming passable due to temperatures that reached the mid-40s.
With nighttime temperatures expected to dip below freezing for several days, Davis said re-freezing on roadways could make for hazardous driving at night.
All in all, many people heeded warnings and stayed off the roads during the storm, according to Davis. He said his department was also fortunate to have avoided any damage to patrol vehicles during the many hours deputies were patrolling the icy, snow-covered roads.
Early warning of the impending snowstorm helped reduce traffic issues, according to Honaker.
“We were once again afforded ample notice concerning this inclement weather event and it was very fortunate that schools in our area had not attempted to have school, which was a good call by the leadership in our school administration,” he said. “By far, most of the crashes and incidents that required our attention were on Interstate 81 in Pulaski County.
“We worked a significant number of crashes and made two arrests related to suspended or revoked drivers who were involved in different crashes,” he continued. “We did our best to keep traffic moving, even at crash scenes, but there were still some delays and temporary blockages. Overall, we feel very fortunate that we didn’t have any serious injuries with so many different accidents.”
According to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller, the agency’s emergency dispatch centers statewide fielded 6,208 calls for service from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 8 a.m. Friday. State troopers also responded to 1,467 traffic crashes, including two involving fatalities, and 1,599 disabled vehicles.
The storm-related fatalities occurred in Halifax and Loudoun counties. The Loudoun wreck involved a VDOT contract worker from Vienna who was struck by a VDOT dump truck after stopping on the side of the road and standing at the back of his vehicle.
According to Virginia Department of Emergency Management map, as much as 20-25 inches of snow was recorded in some parts of Pulaski County as a result of the two-day storm. The map gives Montgomery and Floyd counties the distinction of receiving the most snow statewide, exceeding 25 inches in some areas.