News

Snow Brings Team Effort to Dig Out

The biggest storm on record to hit the Washington D.C. region and the Northeastern U.S. corridor in the month of December, leaving 120,000 without power and over 3,000 vehicles stranded on Virginia roadways, dumped nearly 20 inches, and in the wake of severe budgetary constraints and cuts, called forth team efforts to open roads, rescue motorists and clean up.

Schools in the region remained closed this entire week, and the federal government was shut down through Tuesday.

The snow fell constantly for 36 hours from Friday night to Sunday morning, adding to the frustration of public works crews trying to keep roads open with only the usual salt drops. In the City of Falls Church, according to Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, sand had to be used to provide traction on major emergency routes because the salt didn’t work.

By Monday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), responsible for clearing all roads in the region outside of Falls Church and Arlington, still had 7,000 miles of mostly secondary roads to clear, Mester reported.

Another storm is due to hit the area with a “wintry mix” Thursday night and rain on Friday. While temperatures will rise to the 40s, the rain will “create new challenges,” Mester said, as storm drains and catch basins remain clogged by snow. It will create “ponding” on roads, she said, cautioning residents to be prepared.

Last weekend, despite the difficulties brought on by manpower shortages, the major cause of delays and less-than-optimal road clearing efforts was due to the magnitude of the storm, itself, Mester said. At the City’s property yard on Gordon Road, an accumulation of 18.5 inches was measured, making it the biggest storm since January 1996, when one major storm was followed on by another one.

Rosemary-Lane-Leopold

A view down Rosemary Lane in Falls Church on Saturday, Dec. 19. (Photo: Allison Leopold)

Mester noted that while three positions in the City’s Department of Environmental Services remained unfilled due to the hiring freeze, and another two persons were out on workman’s compensation, Rick Goff, head of the Environmental Services Division, rallied utility and Parks and Recreation crews to fill in the gaps.

 

Goff drew praise from Mester for being on the job from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, as crews worked in shifts and grabbed brief periods of respite in local hotels. A total of 16 rooms at the Inn of Virginia and Hillwood Suites were reserved for such use by the City.

The state of emergency declared by Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner Friday, and ratified by a 6-0 vote of the City Council in an extraordinary telephone conference call Saturday, was extended until 5 p.m. Tuesday, giving Goff and his crews time to adequately clear emergency routes and finish their job.

The 25-minute phone call late Saturday afternoon was perhaps the first such Council action in the City’s 50-plus year history. Much of the time on the call was taken up by Mester’s providing a detailed report on the City’s efforts to address the situation.

She told the News-Press Tuesday that no increase in police presence was required due to a lack of accidents or other incidents, and that the arrest of a group of young people trying to steal radios out of parked vehicles was the only significant incident.

Mayor Gardner praised the efforts of City crews in comments to the News-Press on Monday, saying that while conditions were very difficult, the City’s accomplishments compared very favorably to those in surrounding jurisdictions. On the conference call Saturday, all members of the Council chimed in with their expressions of appreciation for the effort.

Mester said that the storm’s severity made it difficult for crews to clear roads without piling snow in front of many driveways in the City, and she praised the patience of residents who waited for help to address this.

She also said that the City crews had been unable to do a leaf pickup before the snow started falling, so there were added issues of piles of leaves being covered by snow.

Schools in the region remained closed this entire week, and the federal government was shut down through Tuesday.

The snow fell constantly for 36 hours from Friday night to Sunday morning, adding to the frustration of public works crews trying to keep roads open with only the usual salt drops. In the City of Falls Church, according to Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, sand had to be used to provide traction on major emergency routes because the salt didn’t work.

By Monday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), responsible for clearing all roads in the region outside of Falls Church and Arlington, still had 7,000 miles of mostly secondary roads to clear, Mester reported.

Another storm is due to hit the area with a “wintry mix” Thursday night and rain on Friday. While temperatures will rise to the 40s, the rain will “create new challenges,” Mester said, as storm drains and catch basins remain clogged by snow. It will create “ponding” on roads, she said, cautioning residents to be prepared.

Last weekend, despite the difficulties brought on by manpower shortages, the major cause of delays and less-than-optimal road clearing efforts was due to the magnitude of the storm, itself, Mester said. At the City’s property yard on Gordon Road, an accumulation of 18.5 inches was measured, making it the biggest storm since January 1996, when one major storm was followed on by another one.

Mester noted that while three positions in the City’s Department of Environmental Services remained unfilled due to the hiring freeze, and another two persons were out on workman’s compensation, Rick Goff, head of the Environmental Services Division, rallied utility and Parks and Recreation crews to fill in the gaps.

Goff drew praise from Mester for being on the job from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, as crews worked in shifts and grabbed brief periods of respite in local hotels. A total of 16 rooms at the Inn of Virginia and Hillwood Suites were reserved for such use by the City.

The state of emergency declared by Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner Friday, and ratified by a 6-0 vote of the City Council in an extraordinary telephone conference call Saturday, was extended until 5 p.m. Tuesday, giving Goff and his crews time to adequately clear emergency routes and finish their job.

The 25-minute phone call late Saturday afternoon was perhaps the first such Council action in the City’s 50-plus year history. Much of the time on the call was taken up by Mester’s providing a detailed report on the City’s efforts to address the situation.

She told the News-Press Tuesday that no increase in police presence was required due to a lack of accidents or other incidents, and that the arrest of a group of young people trying to steal radios out of parked vehicles was the only significant incident.

Mayor Gardner praised the efforts of City crews in comments to the News-Press on Monday, saying that while conditions were very difficult, the City’s accomplishments compared very favorably to those in surrounding jurisdictions. On the conference call Saturday, all members of the Council chimed in with their expressions of appreciation for the effort.

Mester said that the storm’s severity made it difficult for crews to clear roads without piling snow in front of many driveways in the City, and she praised the patience of residents who waited for help to address this.

She also said that the City crews had been unable to do a leaf pickup before the snow started falling, so there were added issues of piles of leaves being covered by snow.

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