The ‘Birdwatchers,’ by Gregory Johnson, located at the corner of Clay an Market streets in Kingsport, is prepared for colder temperatures. Photo by David Grace.
WISE — Highway maintenance crews should be on everyone’s short list of what to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week as a storm front that hammered Texas and parts of the Midwest makes its way toward the Atlantic sector of the nation.
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s Wise Residency — responsible for keeping roads passable in Lee, Wise, Scott and Dickenson counties — has had its eye on the season’s first real wintry test since last season, and is ready for whatever comes.
“The forecast we’re seeing is possible sleet late (Monday) evening. The real event begins Tuesday night into Wednesday. But we are getting started by having patrol crews out tonight so we can have our people out there watching in case there are any problems with roads or bridges, the cold spots that might freeze,” Wise Residency Administrator Allan Sumpter said Monday.
“We’ll be checking the forecast as it updates, but right now we anticipate full crews will be out Tuesday night.”
Rain, sleet, some snow and even the potential for freezing rain are in the forecast for the area today into Wednesday. For VDOT crews that work some of the higher elevations of Southwest Virginia, it’s a mixed bag that’s nothing new during the winter months.
Since last month, Wise County has already had a “couple of light events so far and it’s just been dustings (of snow), and we’ve had our people out in patrolling type scenarios for those. Here in Wise County on Black Mountain, we had a little bit of precipitation, and some with our higher elevations, but so far no (snow or ice) accumulations on our main thoroughfares such as (U.S. Routes) 23 and 58,” Sumpter said.
Moderating temperatures in advance of the storm system on Monday helped to counterbalance the frigid overnight temperatures over the weekend. That will help some with what’s to come, he said.
“Temperatures on the pavements have been up to this point. However the last few nights we’ve had lows in the low 20s and in the teens, so that most likely cooled the pavement temperatures down enough to see snow and ice stick to those surfaces,” Sumpter said. “But with temperatures expected back up some today in the high 30s or low 40s, that will be a help.”
At the beginning of the winter season, all stations across the Wise Residency region are fully stocked with road salt, abrasives and chemical additives, Sumpter reported.
“Of course we’ve been working over the last several months stocking salt this year. One of the new things we have is an additional (1,000 ton) salt storage facility at our site on the Dickenson/Wise line that serves the Pound area, and that should increase our response time on (U.S. Route 23) to the Kentucky line,” he said.
“We’ve also added a 4,000 ton salt storage facility at our Glamorgan shop so if we get to a point we’re getting low and we’re waiting for shipments to come in — and that’s always slower than you like in the winter — this will be a reserve to all of our locations as needed.”
Freezing rain is the worst stuff VDOT has to deal with. Motorists should be doubly cautious and stay off the roads if at all possible in those conditions. Road salt and the chemical additive have limits.
“One you get down to the mid-teens, it starts to get less effective. When temperatures get into the low 20s, we start mixing calcium chloride in with the salt, but at the mid-teens it starts becoming an issue for any type of chemical to work. But we’re not expecting our temperatures to be like that with this event,” Sumpter said.
“Even if it does get down into the low 20s overnight, there will probably be enough warmth generated during the daytime to keep (salt and or additive) working. When we put our first application of salt under there, it creates a brine out of that and there is heat generated out of that, too.”
Regardless, motorists will be seeing a lot of VDOT crews through at least Wednesday.
“Many of our events start out that way, with rain and freezing rain, so we will have our crews out (Monday night forward) to watch for those types of things. Our bridges particularly. People need to be extra careful about bridges over the next 24 hours because bridges freeze faster than road surfaces,” Sumpter said.