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Road crews prepping for winter weather

Steve Igo • Mar 5, 2013 at 3:07 AM

Virginia Department of Transportation road crews were scheduled to go into a Level 3 mobilization alert starting Tuesday night in preparation for the latest winter storm system expected to rake the region into Wednesday evening.

The advance of a low pressure system sweeping out of the midwest toward the mid-Atlantic delivered rain across the region during daylight hours Tuesday, but that was all expected to change to a wintry mix and/or a wet, heavy snow, depending on locale and elevation, overnight Tuesday all day Wednesday.

The National Weather Service was predicting from 3 inches to 6 inches of snow possible for Wise County with smaller accumulations for the lower elevations, but accumulations could be even greater in the higher elevations depending on the intensity, and movement, once the low pressure system reaches the coast. Northeast Tennessee could get two to three inches of snow.

Kingsport's Streets and Sanitation Department held its snow preparednes meeting Tuesday afternoon in light of the weather forecast. Manager Ronnie Hammonds said a majority of the department's snow removal equipment was in good working order and that the city had 2,400 tons of road salt on hand in case the snow does start to fall.

"We'll be starting our snow emergency after hours work at midnight (Tuesday) and work throughout the night in preparation for the snow," Hammonds said, noting the rainy weather prevents his crews from pre-treating the roads. "But we shouldn't use a lot of salt with the expected temperatures. It's going to be more of a ploughing-type event, wet and slushy. Good conditions for a heavy, wet type of snow."

VDOT's Jackie Christian, the assistant administrator for the agency's Wise Residency headquartered in Wise, on Tuesday said crews were already preparing for the season's latest wintry punch.

Road crews were on 24-hour shifts starting Tuesday morning, and Christian said crews were "out late last night doing maintenance on our equipment to get ready for the snow."

VDOT has five mobilization levels, with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 5 the most dire. Christian said he expects the Wise Residency, with responsibility for highway maintenance in Scott, Lee, Wise and Dickenson counties, to operate at Level 3 throughout the latest storm beginning Tuesday night.

Level 3 means VDOT operates with "full state forces along with contractors" and Level 3 will go into effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"At present we're at Level 2, which is all VDOT crews at all our area headquarters," Christian said. "Last night we had an opportunity to have a night crew out to service all the equipment. Grease, clean and mix all the materials up for our road crews, the abrasives and salt. And we are all restocked at high levels at this time, because we restocked from the previous storm."

Level 4 requires use of heavier equipment such as tractors and graders to assist in snow removal, "and Level 5 is all out everything we can get" to dig out of a truly major snow event.

"We predict we'll stay at a 3 this time around. There are just two situations I can recall where we have been at a Level 5 in years past, but that's a full out blizzard," Christian said.

"With this one, we're not for sure where the freeze line will hit us in the residency. Between Wise and Scott the elevation difference plays a big part in that, but we will still do Level 3 in all our four counties as we go into this one."

Winter weary residents can look forward to hints of spring in the long range forecast with sunny and/or partly sunny skies predicted through the weekend beginning Thursday and temperatures expected to moderate considerably by Saturday.

"They've got us with temperatures in the 60's for Saturday, I believe, so we'll be looking forward to that," Christian said. "As always, with this latest round we ask our residents to use caution, especially if we get into the freezing rain because while roads might just look wet, any time you get under 32 degrees there is typically ice on the roadways."

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