CHARLESTON, WV – With the first ice storm of the season predicted to hit the eastern panhandle beginning the night of Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) highway crews are gearing up to battle snow and ice.
“We’re already making arrangements for staffing,” said West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) District 5 Engineer Lee Thorne, P.E.
District 5 was moving extra snowplow crews into the panhandle and pre-treating roads with brine on Wednesday to make it harder for ice to stick and melt any ice that accumulates. Fortunately, with temperatures predicted to hover around freezing, Thorne expected pre-treating and salting to be effective during the storm.
“That’s a good temperature for the salt to work, for sure,” Thorne said.
The National Weather Service was predicting close to half an inch of ice in the higher elevations in the eastern panhandle.
WVDOH tactics are a little different when battling ice instead of snow.
“They won’t be doing much plowing,” Thorne said. “They’ll mostly be treating.”
The WVDOT wants motorists to be careful in winter conditions and when sharing the road with Snow Removal & Ice Control (SRIC) vehicles such as plows and trucks.
Zach Murphy is a WVDOH Transportation Worker III in District 4, driving the plows in the winter. He said motorists should slow down to less than the speed limit.
“It is the same thing when dealing with a work zone – slow down and move over. Our trucks, when we are out treating and plowing, are moving work zones,” Murphy said.
Murphy also warns motorists of the dangers of following a salt truck too closely, resulting in decreased visibility for both parties.
“When you are following behind a truck, if you cannot see our mirrors, we cannot see you,” he said. “We may not know you are back there. If we must stop suddenly or turn around, back up to clear an intersection it could not be good.”
There are approximately 1,080 SRIC trucks mounted with snow-fighting equipment around the state belonging to the WVDOH.
Jeff Pifer, P.E., director of the WVDOH Equipment Division in Buckhannon said motorists should realize a lot is going on within the truck for the driver including controlling functions during poor weather conditions, having visibility issues due to the weather, and the sheer difficulties of driving the large machine.
Pifer said if a driver is spreading material on the road, to give as much room as possible. If a motorist attempts to pass a truck, Pifer said to make sure the plow driver can see the motorist. When a plow is approaching from the opposite direction, pull over as far to the right as is safe.
“That stuff is coming out of the spreader and while it is supposed to drop straight down onto the road, it can out with velocity and can bounce. You can end up scratching your car and being peppered with it,” Pifer said.
“If you can stay back away from it, where it is not doing that, that’s a good rule of thumb.”
The safest option when winter weather is here is to stay home, Murphy said. He also suggested turning on headlights and taillights no matter the time of day.
“If you are going to be out traveling, be prepared,” Murphy said. “Leave the house 15 to 20 minutes early, make sure you have snow tires and slow down and drive accordingly.”
All roads maintained by the WVDOH fit into one of four priorities. The Interstate, Expressway, National Highway System, and all other United States and West Virginia routes are Priority 1 routes in an SRIC strategy.
Some Priority 1 routes also include high-traffic county routes. Priority 2 routes are all other school bus routes that are not considered Priority 1. Priority 3 routes are the remaining routes, not including park and forest routes. Priority 4 routes are park and forest routes.
Over the past two winter seasons, WVDOT crews have used an average of 250,000 tons of salt and 1.3 million gallons of de-icing liquid.
For the latest updates and information on travel conditions throughout West Virginia, visit wv.511.org.