CHARLESTON, WV – West Virginia Department of Transportation snowplow drivers are urging motorists to stay off the roads as much as possible to give them time to clear the snow and ice that is creating dangerous driving conditions in parts of the state.
Division of Highways (DOH) crews are out in full force today with bright yellow plow trucks; while the Parkways Authority clears the West Virginia Turnpike with bright orange plows. The colorful plows are a welcome sight in unsightly weather, but weather occurs on all miles at once; while each driver can only clear one mile at a time.
Locally, snow and freezing is expected to continue until 9 p.m. Thursday night with a 30 chance of snow between 9 p.m. and midnight. According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, patchy freezing drizzle may develop overnight. This, coupled with wet roads refreezing may generate slick conditions.
All over the state, crews were working and reporting a mix of weather-related challenges.
Tony Clark, District 6 Engineer, responsible for Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Tyler, and Wetzel counties, reported “From the Mason-Dixon line north, we received 8” of snow on Tuesday and another inch or two on Wednesday night. Primary routes were cleared Wednesday morning, and we continue to work on secondary routes.”
Scott Eplin, District 2 Manager, responsible for Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, and Wayne counties said, “Sometimes mother nature throws us curves; we have a couple hundred trees down, which impacts our ability to clear roads. Those impact not only us but emergency response personnel and utilities as well.”
Mike Cronin, District 4 Engineer, responsible for Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties reported “This was a strange weather event. It came as rain, changed to ice, then a good coating of snow, then back to rain to compact everything and all this was at 28 degrees or less. As of 8 a.m., we had our primary roads clear in District 4 and were working on secondary routes.”
Travis Knighton, District 1 Engineer, responsible for Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties, said, “We’re used to dealing with the snow, but with this event it was the ice that was our biggest problem. Our crews always work 12-hour shifts before, during, and after snowstorms and we don’t stop until the roads are clear!”
Older DOH snowplows, in white like the snow, are still out as well but even with reflective strips they can be more difficult to see in gray weather. So when the DOH began welcoming new snowplows to their inventory, they specified they be painted yellow.
“The trucks are specifically ordered in yellow because yellow is a high-visibility color,” said Jeff Pifer, director of the DOH Equipment Division in Buckhannon. “It was absolutely for safety reasons.”
While the old white snowplows can be difficult to see under some conditions, Pifer said the new yellow vehicles are much easier to spot.
“Whatever we can do to make our vehicles more visible to the public, we are doing,” he said. “Plus, our state colors are blue and gold, so it kind of works out.”
Snowplows operating on the West Virginia Turnpike, on the other hand, have been painted orange for as long as anyone can remember.
“It’s been that way forever,” said Jeff Miller, executive director of the West Virginia Parkways Authority. “The color is called Turnpike Orange. I guess it goes back to the early days when the equipment was painted orange – as were the traffic control signs – for safety.”
Motorists have seen a lot of snowplows this winter, as the Department of Transportation makes a concerted effort to keep the Turnpike and other state roads clear. Highways officials call it SRIC, for Snow Removal and Ice Control, and the drivers who work 12-hour shifts until the roads are cleared do so because they care about public safety.
“Our people are the best in the country; snowstorms, rock falls, flooding, you name it,” said Jimmy Wriston, P.E., Deputy Secretary of Transportation. “They run to the fire every time to keep the public safe, so we ask that you give our drivers plenty of space on the road and use caution. We can’t keep the snow from falling, but we won’t stop until we get it cleared.”