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Weather, or not? County prepares for possible winter weather

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Memories of midweek’s mild temperatures are fading fast as storm clouds gather for a weekend winter weather event.

“Our confidence is increasing that we will see some snow this weekend,” said Jake Ruckman of the National Weather Service. “As far as actual amounts, there is still a lot of uncertainty involved based on where the storm will be tracking. We’re still trying to determine where this thing’s going to go because there will be a noticeable line where there will be a changeover to a wintry mix. It’s still kind of up in the air as to where that line is going to fall. We could see a half a foot of snow or we could see a couple of inches and then it becomes a slushy mess.”

Unlike December’s major snowfall which came in from the south and collided with a high pressure system positioned in the north, this storm is tracking west to east. At press time, forecasters weren’t confident in predicting major accumulations of the white stuff, but even if the precipitation changes into a wintry mix, most believe it will begin as snow.

Officials at VDOT also believe this will be the case. Rolling lane closures were in effect on Interstate 81 to allow tanker trucks to spray a brine solution onto the pavement.

“This is a process that we do on interstates and the primary routes,” said Jason Bond of the Virginia Department of Transportation. “We can brine when the temperatures are warm enough ahead of the storm and it’s an event that’s going to start out primarily as snow. We can’t brine if the temperature gets down to the low twenties and we can’t brine if it’s a rain event that transitions to snow or ice because it just washes off. So the conditions are right and we’re moving forward with brining operations ahead of any Winter weather we may see this weekend.”

Routes 100, 11 and 99 are all being treated. The last time VDOT pretreated the roadways was in mid-December, when more than a foot of snow fell in the New River Valley.

“We can pretreat up to 48 hours before a winter weather event,” said Bond. “It’s something that we do that helps us when we plow because it helps to prevent the ice and snow from bonding to the road surface. So when we plow it, it comes up easier.”

Many ask why secondary roadways do not receive the same brining treatment.

“You can’t put a lot of salt on secondary roads because of the makeup of the road,” Bond explained. “If you looked at the material under interstates and primary roads you would see quite a bit of base material in the form of several layers of stone. Secondary roads don’t have that depth of base material. So if you were to put a lot of salt on a secondary road, because it doesn’t have that depth of base material, it would start to pull moisture onto the surface of that road. With freezing and thawing, that would cause that road to start to break up and form potholes.”

According to Bond, secondary roads are generally treated with crushed stone with a small amount of salt mixed in.

Light precipitation is expected to fall Saturday and get much heavier Saturday night into Sunday. Whether or not there is a major snow event here in the New River Valley is still up in the air but those in lower elevations will likely see almost all rain from this storm.

If heavy snow is not a cause of anxiety, head up to the mountains of West Virginia, where forecasters are expecting a foot of the fluffy white stuff to fall over the weekend.

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