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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Local crews ready to tackle winter weather conditions
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Eddie Frazier, city public works field superintendent, stands with two city trucks ready to take to the roads to treat snow and ice. With a forecast of freezing rain this weekend, area road workers are busy preparing salt and sand treatments. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Thursday, December 5, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Martinsville public works crews are ready to try to rid the roads of any ice and snow this weekend and all winter.

According to the National Weather Service, freezing rain is likely across the area late Saturday night and into Sunday due to an expected moisture surge coupled with the clash of cold and warm air masses.

However, meteorologists said Wednesday that it was too soon to tell how bad freezing rain — and the slick roads it causes — might be.

That could be an ironic end to this week, which has been proclaimed Winter Preparedness Week in Virginia.

David Kiser, assistant residency administrator at the VDOT office in Bassett Forks, said crews there apply salt, sand or a mixture of both to roads across Henry and Patrick counties when icy weather threatens motorists’ safety.

About 3,700 tons of salt, 4,500 tons of sand and 2,200 tons of the mixed abrasives are on hand, and plows and other snow removal devices have been inspected and tested, Kiser said.

For those reasons, VDOT is “fully stocked and ready” to hit the highways when needed, he declared.

In Martinsville, the salt spreader was installed on a truck several weeks ago, and other equipment can be checked and made ready with a day’s notice of icy precipitation being expected, said Public Works Director Jeff Joyce.

Both VDOT and the city also have liquid calcium chloride on hand, but use it sparingly. Officials said the substance is most effective in extreme cold and when precipitation is anticipated to begin as snow. Rain would wash it away, they said.

“Salt does about as good as anything” in making roads less dangerous, Joyce said, adding that the city has about 300 tons of salt stockpiled.

Whereas water freezes at 32 degrees, salt begins to freeze at 20 degrees, according to Joyce.

In the counties, salt generally is used to melt precipitation sticking to roads, and sand is applied to give vehicles extra traction, Kiser said.

VDOT and city crews usually hit the roads as soon as precipitation starts to fall.

“With the city being so small” compared with Henry County, Joyce said, it can treat spots that are particularly troublesome “virtually instantaneously.”

Those spots include Northside Drive, a large portion of which is covered by trees, and the hill on Liberty Street behind Liberty Fair Mall, he said.

City crews treat such locations first, then move to heavily traveled routes such as Commonwealth and Memorial boulevards before clearing residential streets and parking lots, Joyce said.

But “we can usually hit every street in Martinsville within 24 hours” of the start of a winter weather event, he said.

In the counties, VDOT focuses its attention first on primary roads — those numbered 600 and below — because they are the most heavily traveled, Kiser said. Examples include U.S. 220, U.S. 58 and Virginia 57.

Secondary roads, numbered 600 and above, are treated after primary roads are in the best shape possible, followed by residential streets, Kiser said.

When snow accumulates, Joyce suggests that people wait to shovel their driveways after plows go down their streets so they do not have to shovel again. He said plows cannot avoid piling snow at the ends of driveways.

Also, if snow is forecast, do not park vehicles in the street to make it easier for plows to maneuver, officials request.

Although snow and sleet also can be dangerous, experts say freezing rain may be the most dangerous type of frozen precipitation because it leaves a coating of ice on roads and other surfaces.

Winter officially will arrive Dec. 21, but what scientists call “meteorological winter,” the three-month period in which freezing precipitation is most likely to occur, began Dec. 1.


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