School, VDOT officials bracing for major snowstorm

By Allen Worrell

February 11, 2014

With Winter Storm Pax threatening the South, local and area officials are preparing for the possibility of major accumulations of snow.

With snow expected to begin by mid-afternoon Wednesday in the New River Valley and continue on until late Thursday morning, forecasts for Carroll County are calling for anywhere from four to 12 inches of snow. Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Strader Blankenship said the school system will monitor radars before making a decision on school for Wednesday.

“We’re just going to monitor it and see what the weather is in morning. We’ll know in the morning. If there is any chance of us getting caught, we aren’t going to go (to school),” Blankenship said. “If we can get in (school) and can do it safely, we will (go on regular time Wednesday). We’ve heard different versions of when it will start. We will wait and see what the hourly forecast looks like and then go from there.”

As of Tuesday, Carroll County Public Schools had already missed 12 days due to weather. While the school system is not in panic mode yet, Blankenship said it’s getting close.

“We’ve got a few days to play with, but not many,” he said.

Law requires school systems in Virginia to make up the first five days it misses, which Blankenship said won’t be a problem. For the next 10 days missed, law also requires school systems to make up one of every two days missed.

“As of right now we are making up every single day. That becomes problematic with this next snow, and that’s when we get into the two-days-for-one scenario,” Blankenship said. “We go to school 30 or 35 minutes more per day than required by law so we can count that time if we were to be out several more days. If that occurs we may have to go to some other mode, but right now our thought is we make up every single day.”

Carroll County Public Schools were set to end the current school year on May 16th. Blankenship said right now the plan is for students to go to school on two days that were scheduled as teacher workdays and to extend the school year to May 30th. The Carroll County School Board is expected to vote on that proposal during its Feb. 11th meeting, Blankenship added.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation has already started pretreating roads in advance of the winter storm. Jason Bond, VDOT spokesperson for the Salem District, said VDOT is preparing for a “major winter weather event.” Brine, a salt and water mixture, can be used to pretreat roads 48 hours in advance, making it easier to plow roads.

“It prevents snow and ice from bonding to the surface, so it makes it easier once we start plowing. We can only can do major roads and interstates, though, and we are doing that throughout the area,” Bond said. “We are also preparing crews to work 12-hour shifts and checking on equipment - putting chains and plows on and gearing up to respond to winter weather.”

One of the major concerns with this particular storm is the timing, Bond said, noting the storm could begin at the evening commute time Wednesday, which poses challenges.

“I would ask people to plan ahead of the storm and leave work early if they can, or wait until road conditions improve. That would be a big help because it makes it tougher to plow and treat with a lot of traffic on the roads,” Bond said.

Bond encourages Virginia residents to use VDOT’s 511 system online at, or by using the mobile app or dialing 511. This will provide the most up-to-date road conditions. He also asks people for patience and to realize VDOT’s top priority will be on major, primary roads.

“Until it stops snowing and the major roads are plowed and treated, we won’t move to secondary roads numbered above 600 (in VDOT’s road priority system). People need to keep in mind as long as snow is coming down, we will be working on main roads and not secondary roads,” Bond said. “If we have a prolonged event, people need to be patient and keep in mind it may be a while before we get to secondary roads.”

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross is also preparing for the worst.

“Our Red Cross Disaster Services Managers have been in contact with local emergency management and community partners to coordinate efforts should shelters need to be opened,” said Amy Whittaker, Regional Director of Public Affairs for the American Red Cross. “Emergency management determines the need for shelters and if some are identified they will request our assistance. Red Cross disaster volunteers are also on standby should our services be needed.”