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NEW: Arlington crews wrapping up snow removal as another winter storm looms

It’s been tough sledding, so to speak, for Arlington snow crews this week.

With the help of some milder temperatures, crews have nearly completed their snow removal effort following Monday’s winter storm. But with another storm looming tonight, threatening another 2-4 inches of snow, there will not be time to rest.

“Arlington crews continue to clear the remnants of Monday’s storm ahead of this next event, moving in tonight,” said Peter Golkin, spokesman for the county’s Dept. of Environmental Services. “They’re clearing intersections and turn lanes while pre-treating bridges and other key spots with brine and salt.”

Officials today revealed more details about the challenges the county faced in dealing with a major snowstorm during a Covid wave and at the end of a holiday weekend.

“Just a few days out, forecasts did not anticipate Monday’s event and the first indication of a significant weather event was issued Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m.,” Golkin recounted. “Arlington crews worked through Sunday to load salt spreader V-boxes, attach plows and mobilize equipment for the response as most Arlington equipment is multi-purpose as part of year-round operations.”

Indeed, as of Saturday (New Year’s Day) morning, two days before the storm, forecasters were only calling for “relatively light precipitation” and limited accumulation, in part because Sunday was expected to be warm and the precipitation would start as rain.

“Roads were not pretreated because the incoming Monday system, as forecast, began with heavy rain, which washes away brine, making it useless,” Golkin noted

By Monday evening, after 6-10 inches of snow fell, the county acknowledged what many locals observed: streets were not getting cleared as quickly as in past storms. While Arlington and other D.C. area jurisdictions don’t have the snow removal firepower of more northern locales with more frequent significant snow events, the plowing was taking longer than usual.

The county blamed “COVID19-related staffing shortages.”

“Our first Monday team was at approximately 50% of typical response, due to staffing shortages from the direct or collateral impact of COVID, plus the challenges of people returning from a scheduled holiday weekend,” Golkin said this morning. “Monday’s second shift starting at noon was further hampered when members who live far from Arlington got caught in traffic backups including at least eight stranded for more than 20 hours on I-95.”

“Our contractors for additional trucks had the same issues and were naturally in high demand across the region,” the spokesman added. “By Tuesday afternoon, we had mobilized above the 75% of County level for a typical big response and supplemented with contractor resources.”

Now with another storm looming, county and state officials are sounding a louder alarm — even with lower anticipated snowfall totals.

“With the National Weather Service calling for another significant round of winter weather making its way across Virginia Thursday night (Jan. 6) into Friday morning (Jan. 7), the Virginia State Police are encouraging Virginians to be weather aware… to plan ahead… and to avoid traveling during inclement conditions,” state police said today.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has even declared a preemptive state of emergency.

“Having two bouts of snow and icy weather back to back makes it more likely communities will need additional help as they continue to recover from the first round of tree-snapping wet snow and ice that we saw Monday,” Northam said in a statement. “While we typically have ample resources for snow storms, these back-to-back events will generate landmark winter weather that requires extra flexibility. I am grateful to the hundreds of first responders and emergency personnel who continue to work around the clock to keep Virginians safe.”

The Arlington School Board, meanwhile, is holding its scheduled meeting tonight virtually, after the fourth consecutive snow day this week.

In advance to tonight’s snowfall, Golkin advised residents to “check the forecast regularly and avoid unnecessary travel during and even hours after a winter storm.”

“Crews need the space and time and the work is prioritized,” he said. “Public safety response routes are handled first, followed by more residential areas. Plowing takes place only with at least two inches of snow on the ground. Equipment and road surfaces get damaged when snow is not high enough. And pretreatment is wasted when a storm begins with rain.”

He added: “Crews very much appreciate patience and understanding.”

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