WASHINGTON — Drivers across the D.C. area who took to the roads Thursday morning encountered icy, slushy conditions as snow fell more furiously than many expected — right during the heart of the morning commute.
Officials with both the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Maryland State Highway Administration stressed that crews had been out pre-treating roads for hours before the snow fell.
However, snow began piling up on shoulders and in between lanes.
WTOP’s Traffic Center reported a number of spinouts across area roads, including on icy, snow-covered ramps in interchanges. And secondary roads and neighborhood streets quickly became snow-covered, and many drivers took to social media to vent their frustration about what appeared to be untreated roads.
@VaDOTNOVA out here in North Reston, roads are completely untreated. No sign of any plows, slippery and dangerous. Drivers sliding all over the place.
— Rena #CountEveryVote RF (@RenaRF) November 15, 2018
DC really missed the mark on this snow day. Roads are a slushy untreated nightmare. Great job everyone.
— Kati, RHIT, CCA (@katipettit1) November 15, 2018
“To be honest, I think a lot of (drivers) didn’t realize that the snow was going to materialize … so I think it’s really a little bit of a shock value,” Ellen Kamilakis, spokeswoman with VDOT, told WTOP in an interview Thursday morning.
The timing of the snowfall also wreaked havoc — with heavy snowfall starting to fall after drivers had already taken to the roads.
“The quick burst of heavy snow during the morning rush hour, when traffic was at its heaviest, was an unfortunate combination of events. The briefly heavy snowfall rates overcame road temperatures that were slightly above freezing,” said WTOP’s Dave Dildine, who was manning WTOP’s Traffic Center during Thursday’s commute. “Any pre-treatment that occurred would have been outdone by the burst of heavy snow and sleet.”
John Schofield, deputy director of communications with the Maryland State Highway Administration, told WTOP crews worked to pre-treat roads in the hours before the sleet and snow began. But there’s only so much that can accomplish, he said.
“The issue is, you can treat as much as you can with the brine mixture and then respond throughout the storm with salt, but that will only do so much based on the amount of precipitation that’s falling.”
At least one local Virginia county said it didn’t pre-treat its roads — saying it would have been ineffective.
FWIW: This morning’s rain/sleet/slop illustrates why Arlington roads were not pre-treated overnight. Brine would already have washed away without preventing potential ice to come. #ARLWx
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) November 15, 2018
Arlington County is responsible for maintaining its own roads.
Road crews in some areas of Virginia were also hampered Thursday morning because of the heavy volume of traffic out on the roads.
Kamilakis told WTOP road crews were slowed Thursday morning because of the traffic volume.
“We always treat better when vehicles are off the road, but this is a region [where] people don’t stay home,” she said. “It’s a 24-hour region.”
Still, crews are “plugging along,” Kamilakis said. “They’re experienced; this is what they do. And we just ask people for a little bit of patience and understanding. Either you get winter in November or you get winter in March, and this year it’s November.”