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Winter weather makes surprise appearance
Mix of rain, snow cause traffic problems
Traffic maneuvers around wrecked cars in the southbound lanes of U.S. 220 south of Henry Memorial Park on Thursday. Several accidents were reported throughout the afternoon. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
An unexpected bout of wintry weather Thursday afternoon caused slick roads that resulted in traffic accidents throughout Henry County.
Many of the accidents were along U.S. 220 from Bassett Forks north to the Franklin County line, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), law enforcement officers and 911 emergency dispatchers.
Officials were unable to determine exactly how many accidents there were. However, comments made by dispatchers over the police scanner indicated there were at least 20 wrecks in the area.
Virginia State Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Carpentieri said that to his understanding, no accidents resulted in any serious injuries.
Several accidents occurred along U.S. 220 in the area near Dodge’s Store and the Bassett Forks interchange, according to Lisa Price Hughes, VDOT’s local resident engineer whose office is nearby.
“A lot of sleet and snow came down heavy and hard,” Hughes said, and highways “got slick really quick.”
That prompted VDOT crews to start applying abrasive materials to primary and secondary roads, she said.
Martinsville public works crews were leaving the roads alone but monitoring the weather in case it got worse. City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the icy precipitation “seemed to be melting about as quickly as it was hitting” the roads and traffic citywide was moving along fine.
Towarnicki said city road crews were on standby, and if the weather got worse, they would begin treating roads and streets.
Late Thursday afternoon, a VDOT website indicated that most local roads were clear although there were patches of ice on some bridges and ramps.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said some of his deputies told him their patrol vehicles slid on “little pockets” of ice along roads.
But his impression was that most of the accidents stemmed from actions of “people who don’t know how to drive” when roads get icy, he said.
Deputies at the scene of accidents told him “cars were still flying by them” on slippery roads, he added.
“When there is snow, sleet and freezing rain, you slow down” to 15 mph or 20 mph, Perry said. “Slow down, accelerate easy and brake easy” to prevent accidents.
In uptown Martinsville, large snow flakes fell during the afternoon and streets were slushy.
The National Weather Service had predicted rain with temperatures reaching about 44 degrees. Yet its website and several other weather sources showed local afternoon temperatures around the freezing point of 32 degrees.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the weather service issued a winter weather advisory for snow and sleet until 8 p.m. Thursday. It later extended the advisory until midnight.
Meteorologists at the weather service office in Blacksburg noted they had a tough time predicting Thursday’s weather. They said the cloud cover was thicker than they expected, resulting in the atmosphere being cooler than expected due to a lack of direct sunlight.
Thursday night, winds were expected to shift from the east to the south, and that would bring warmer air that would cause temperatures to rise and turn precipitation to rain, the meteorologists said.
Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers was at home Thursday because he was sick. He said, though, that based on what police department employees had told him, the weather was “a mell of a hess,” so to speak.