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Timing of snow to challenge commuters, road crews

A Virginia Department of Transportation vehicle plows snow at the intersection of Fairfax County Parkway and Wiehle Avenue in this March 5, 2015 file photo. (WTOP File Photo/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — Winter weather is expected to hit the D.C. metro area in earnest by Thursday morning’s rush hour, and area road crews could be challenged by the timing and nature of the storm.

Rain is expected to fall initially and would wash away any de-icing products applied to the roads.

“Technically, we could physically pre-treat. But it’s not going to do any good because it’s not going to be around during the beginning of the snow,” said Ellen Kamilakis, Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The timing when temperatures begin to drop and the precipitation changes to snow also could prove problematic — considering area roads have enjoyed warmer than usual temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It’s going to take a while for that pavement to surrender the heat. That’s actually a good thing,” said Charlie Gischlar, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman. “But, the bad thing starts when it gets cold very quickly and that precipitation comes down at a pretty strong burst right at the morning rush hour.”

Gischlar said a “timing map” for when to begin treating roads will come with careful monitoring of weather forecasts from multiple sources. But forecasters don’t appear to have a consensus on the snow system.

“We’ve had systems that’ve sped up and slowed down and been heavier or lighter or had different components in it. So, we just try to cover all of our bases,” Kamilakis said.

In Northern Virginia, as many as 1,300 salt trucks will begin staging at midnight to treat roads as needed.

Highway officials from both Maryland and Virginia recommend commuters delay their Thursday morning trip to work if possible. It’s harder for crews to do their jobs when roads are clogged with traffic.

Most areas in and around D.C. should expect to see roads treated with salt, but no need for plowing. D.C.’s snow team plans to send out more than 200 trucks beginning at 4 a.m. Thursday. Crews will also pre-treat sidewalks around D.C. public schools, recreations centers and police stations.

In Maryland, Gischlar said there could be enough snow to plow in areas farther north and west.

Kamilakis believes Loudoun County in Virginia might get enough snow for salt trucks to lower their plows.


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