By Greg Jordan
For The Register-Herald
Road crews and residents on both sides of the West Virginia and Virginia state line spent much of Friday digging out of a snowstorm that suddenly blanketed the region Thursday evening. Motorists were warned that despite the thawing, cold temperatures could still put black ice on area roadways.
Heavy, wet snow started falling soon after 1 p.m. Thursday and quickly covered roadways where the two Virginias meet. Highways became treacherous and snowplows could not make much headway until the storm slowed.
“That’s the thing in these cases,” said District Manager Tom Camden of the state Division of Highways. “This one came down so quickly and so heavily.”
When the fast-moving storm left the area, snowplows were able to make progress.
“Once the snow stopped, it certainly made it easier for us to get a handle on it, especially on Route 460 and Interstate 77,” Camden said. “We did have some issues on I-77 last night, especially on Exit 9, on the hill coming up from the railroad trestle.”
Tractor-trailers taking this northbound route quickly became stuck if they had to stop. Once the traffic there started backing up and blocking the highway, road crews could not plow the lanes, Camden said. “Obviously, it’s like a domino effect.”
Interstate 77 was closed Thursday night and part of Friday morning from John Nash Boulevard near Bluefield all the way up to Princeton. The closure was caused mainly because of accidents on the Virginia side of the East River Mountain Tunnel, he said. Accidents on the West Virginia side were also stopping traffic.
“It’s all a domino effect. It’s one long stretch of road when you think about it,” Camden said. “What happens in one place affects everything else.”
Tractor-trailers quickly become obstacles when circumstances force the drivers to stop in a slick area.
“The problem is that they go good until they have to stop,” said Trooper A.P. Christian of the West Virginia State Police detachment near Princeton. “Because of all that weight, it’s hard for them to get moving again.”
The WVSP did not immediately have figures on the numbers of trucks and motorists that were stuck in the snow Thursday, but Christian estimated that this figure could have run into the hundreds. Tractor-trailers and other vehicles parked anywhere they could find space until conditions improved.
In some cases, motorists were on the road when they really had no reason to brave the storm, Christian said. Other drivers who became stuck were often visitors to the region who had never navigated the hazards of a snowstorm.
Fortunately, there had been no reports of fatalities or serious injures.
“We haven’t heard of any injuries, any illnesses, so we’ve been kind of lucky,” Christian said.
In Virginia, the state Division of Highways and the Virginia State Police were working to reopen I-77 in Bland County. Snow and ice patches were reported on the majority of primary routes in Wythe and Tazewell counties. The majority of primary roads in Buchanan County, Va., were clear, but motorists were warned to be careful on slick and snow-covered secondary roads, according to Michelle Earl, a spokesperson for VDOT.
The Virginia State Police extended shifts and called out additional troopers to respond to the numerous wrecks and stranded motorists, said Corinne N. Geller, public relations director.
Primary roads in Bland County were snow-covered and slick in most areas Friday afternoon, according to Michelle Earl, a spokesperson for the Virginia Division of Highways. Extremely slick conditions were reported on the county’s secondary roads.
In nearby Giles County, dispatchers with the Giles County Sheriff’s Office handled numerous calls about accidents and stranded motorists.
“A lot of motorists were trying to get around as best they could just like everyone else,” one dispatcher said. “For the most part, the primary roads are clear at the moment, and they’re working on the secondary roads as we speak.”
— Greg Jordan is a writer for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.