Historic winter storm descends on Jefferson County
It’s evening rush hour on the Blue Ridge Mountain. Bill Price, a 40 year veteran of state highway division, scrapes his plow down the mountain in an almost futile effort to keep Route 9 passable between Charles Town and the Virginia border. It’s almost the end of his 12 hour shift. Squinting through a near blinding snowfall Price speculates that “if we get what they’re calling for, we don’t have the equipment to keep the roads open.”
Price’s sentiment is shared by Rodney Crowell, acting administrator for Jefferson County Parks and Highways. Armed with only nine working snow-plows, Crowell’s road crews are tasked with keeping roughly 450 miles of Jefferson County highways clear for emergency services during the biggest blizzard in decades. Crowell says that his departments first priorities are keeping routes 340, 230, 51 and 9 open, and with snowfall predicted until late Saturday night, it might not be until Sunday or Monday before crews can get a chance to clear secondary roadways. Crowell’s crews are working 12 hour shifts, around the clock.
Back on Route 9, Price’s plow comes to a treacherous s-turn near Mission Road where at least five vehicles have slipped off the roadway. Local law-enforcement agencies work to get people up the mountain by towing cars, one-by-one, to safety with a length of chain and Jeep. Price maneuvers his truck around the chaos and resumes plowing. Behind him, another state plow is following in tandem. It takes 20 minutes for Price to complete one circuit of his designated route, and he’ll drive the same route continuously until ordered elsewhere or his shift ends. The snow quickly covers up any evidence that the road had been plowed.
Visibility is poor by the time Price completed his shift at 6 p.m. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service are calling for the heaviest snowfall to occur in the overnight hours, with sustained winds rising to 15 to 20 mph and gusts reaching 30 mph. Crowell worries that the wind could dry out the relatively wet snow and create treacherous snow-drift conditions.
Local road conditions appear to be deteriorating as the storm picks up in intensity.
Jefferson County and the Lower Shenandoah Valley sit within the predicted epicenter of the storm, with expected snowfalls of 20 to 30 inches by 10 p.m. Saturday.
Earlier today, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin declared a state of emergency for the entire state, allowing the state to hire contractors to help with snow removal if needed.