By Kyle Taylor
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – As a winter storm blanketed the state with snow, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Saturday begged Virginians to avoid driving until the roads are clear.
“Please stay off of the roads tomorrow and Monday if you can and let us do our job to keep you safe and our community safe,” McAuliffe said during a media briefing on the commonwealth’s response to the severe winter weather.
(From VDOT’s Culpeper District: Snow removal operations are being slowed this afternoon by blowing snow and vehicles stuck on uphill grades on both Interstate 64 and I-66. Virginia Department of Transportation crews are plowing primary and interstate highways, only to have them immediately covered again by blowing and drifting snow.
During the past several hours there have been multiple incidents involving tractor-trailer trucks becoming stuck as they ascend I-64 west on Afton Mountain. There have been similar incidents on I-66 in western Fauquier County. Once the truck gets stuck traffic backs up behind, blocking snow plows and tow trucks from reaching the vehicle.
In the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison and Rappahannock, all roads are listed in severe condition, meaning they are partially blocked due to drifting or accumulated snow. I-64 and primary routes in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Orange counties are currently snow-covered and in moderate condition.
Secondary roads in the district’s nine counties are listed in severe condition and some rural secondary roads are impassable due to the accumulated snow and drifts. VDOT crews are continuing to work the highest priority roads, interstates and primary highways, and will shift resources to the secondary system once conditions allow.)
McAuliffe and Virginia emergency response officials said they are working with hundreds of state and local employees statewide to minimize the number of weather-related issues.
One storm-related fatality has been confirmed in Chesapeake. Two other deaths, in Whitfield (in Pittsylvania County) and in Grayson County, are being investigated by the medical examiner to determine if they are weather-related as well.
As of mid-Saturday, more than 4,600 Virginia residents were without electricity. Officials said 60 teams from around the country have come to Virginia to assist Dominion Virginia Power in restoring power.
“We are working very closely with Dominion to make sure that power is restored as soon as possible,” McAuliffe said at the Virginia Emergency Operations Center.
Every part of the commonwealth has been affected by the storm. But McAuliffe said his biggest concern is for coastal areas like Chincoteague, Hampton Roads, Norfolk and Newport News.
“Tonight high tide is at 7:36 p.m. We’re concerned about the high winds and the major coastal flooding that can occur,” McAuliffe said. “We have teams down there working on that, and we’ll monitor to see where we are when we get closer to high tide.”
Another top concern is keeping open the major road arteries, including Interstate 81.
“Trucks have to continue to move their commerce, and we’re doing everything we can, working with VDOT and State Police to make sure that the trucks can go about their business,” McAuliffe said.
“The primary roads that keep the commerce of Virginia moving – that is what we’re hitting. We’re hitting it hard.”
McAuliffe said the state began preparing for winter storm Jonas before the first sight of snow.
“We were the first state to declare a state of emergency. On Wednesday, we had our first snow emergency meeting, and later that afternoon, we deployed 500 trucks to NOVA to get ready for the first storm,” McAuliffe said.
The crews have tried to make the roads safe.
“As of this morning, we had dropped 69,000 tons of salt; 304,000 gallons of liquid salt and 14,000 tons of sand has been put on our streets,” McAuliffe said.
He said the Virginia State Police have responded to more than 4,400 calls and 1,100 car accidents.
In addition, as of Friday, about 700 members of the National Guard had been deployed throughout Virginia to assist with responding to the storm.
Virginia has $200 million in its snow response budget. That amount must cover plowing and other expenses for both the Virginia Department of Transportation and state contractors. With a storm of this magnitude, the response can cost $2 million to $3 million per hour, officials said.
“To me, cost doesn’t matter,” McAuliffe said. “We are going spend whatever it takes to make sure our roads are safe for our communities.”
Richmond could see up to 4 more inches of snow before midnight.
“With the prediction of the sun coming out tomorrow, many may be tempted to go outside, but the roads will be very icy and treacherous,” McAuliffe warned. “Let us do what we need to do – continue to plow and get salt down so we can get on top of this situation.”