RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Even as many are still cleaning up from last weekend’s ice storm and the resulting damage, it’s time to prepare for the next round of wintry weather, while keeping COVID-19 protections in mind.
Unlike the storm that hit Virginia on Saturday, Thursday’s winter weather has the potential to significantly impact morning commuters.
“It has been a very rough week for Central Virginia, and people need not get complacent,” AAA Public and Government Affairs Senior Specialist Morgan Dean said. “Even though we’re still picking up pieces and branches, and some people are still waiting for their power to come back on right now, we’ve got to be prepared for the next storm and be focused on that. We also can’t get complacent, remembering what we saw with the storm on Saturday and thinking that’s exactly what we’re going to see this time.”
On Saturday, the freezing rain created ice that caused major problems across the state. Dominion Energy reported nearly 300,000 customers were without power and heat at the height of the storm.
“Be prepared for anything,” Dean said. “Don’t use what happened on Saturday as your guide to what will be happening with this one because we just don’t know.”
Although the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) advises against non-essential travel in instances of inclement weather, such as this, Dean says that those traveling should be stocked with many of the same supplies as those sheltering in place.
AAA recommends packing blankets, gloves, hats, coats, snacks, beverages, a small snow shovel, an ice scraper, flashlights, batteries, and a backup power source for cell phones. This emergency kit can be useful for anyone heading out on the roadways, as well as those at home without power. If it is stocked with water, residents should remember to bring their emergency kit in from the car when not on the roadways to prevent water from freezing.
“This can be a lifesaver,” Dean said.
Virginia residents should also make sure they have face masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes with them at all times, in the event of a situation that requires close contact.
“If you’re broken down on the road, somebody may come to your aid, and you want to make sure that you’re protecting each other from COVID,” Dean said. “Also, if you have to go to a public shelter, because people did go to public shelters just the other day, to warm up in some of the areas where they still don’t have power, to get assistance, you need to make sure that you have all those things to protect yourself not just from the winter weather, but also COVID-19.”
For those planning to stay home, AAA recommends checking the forecast to determine what to do with the windshield wipers on cars.
“If it’s going to be a snow storm and it might not be ice, leaving them against the windshield and you can brush them off, that’s probably a good thing,” Dean said. “In an ice storm, where there’s a good chance they’re going to be frozen down to it, we actually recommend that you flip them out. But cover them with a bag, a trash bag, a plastic trash bag. Something like that will keep the blades from getting frozen.”
However, those planning to travel or who may end up traveling in an emergency should make sure there are no issues with the car’s battery, and that there is a full tank of gas.
“One thing that we see a lot of this time of year are battery breakdowns, and we’re concerned this year that they might actually be a little bit worse this winter,” Dean said. “Last year, during the height of the pandemic, so many people parked their vehicles and didn’t drive them for several weeks. So the cars and the batteries were not charging like they would’ve normally.”
Residents should have their car batteries looked at or fixed before Thursday’s winter storm hits.
Anyone traveling with children should also avoid putting them in a child safety seat with their winter jacket on.
“Once you’ve gotten them tight in that seat, put that jacket over them like a blanket to help keep them warm,” Dean said.
Overall, residents are advised against traveling for the duration of the anticipated inclement weather. Virginia State Police (VSP) responded to more than 360 crashes and nearly 200 disabled vehicles across the state between midnight and 9 p.m. on Saturday.
“Whether you have a small sedan or you have a larger four-wheel-drive SUV, when you start spinning or slipping on ice, it doesn’t matter whether you have two wheels going or four wheels going. You’re going to spin,” Dean said. “On ice, everybody’s in the same boat.”