There was no weather event worth remembering. We had very little snow and very high temperatures.
“We basically had a non-winter,” said Christopher Strong, the National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist for the Baltimore-Washington area.
This year, he said, we’re more likely to have something like a normal winter. That would mean more snow and cooler temperatures, but probably nothing like the “clobber winter” of 2009-10 when blizzard covered over blizzard. That leaves a lot of possibilities in between.
“One of the interesting things about this area is that we get just about anything,” Strong said.
Perhaps a little too-interesting for people like Bronco Vlacich, the regional maintenance administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation. He is among the weather watchers who get guidance from Strong and then figure out how, when and where to deploy small armies of snow-fighting forces.
“In winter, I’m not afraid of the snow and ice,” he said. “I’m afraid of the traffic.”
That means you. Here’s what you should know to avoid being part of the problem.
While last winter offered few tests, Vlacich already was preparing for the opening of the 495 Express Lanes in the middle of the Capital Beltway. So when VDOT briefed reporters and local officials on seasonal weather preparations last month, I asked him how those four lanes would be cleared while preserving the white bollards that line their outer boundaries.
“It's a challenge,” Vlacich said.
All Beltway lanes will be treated equally, he said, a reassuring statement perhaps for those drivers who already regard the new toll lanes as “Lexus Lanes.” In a snowfall, a line of plows will spread out across all six lanes on each Beltway loop. The plows in the regular lanes will be pushing snow to the right. Those in the express lanes will push it to the left, where the shoulders are.
A specialized truck, known as a flusher, will target the narrow median where the bollards are. The truck has nozzles in the front that will give the median a power washing with a brine solution, blasting out any ice and snow before it becomes a problem.
Vlacich said cars in the nearby lanes will not get power washed in the process because the trucks will be part of the plow convoy. Drivers won’t have a chance to come abreast of the truck spraying the brine.
While drivers may be unfamiliar with this type of tanker truck, drivers across the D.C. region would recognize the type of truck that spreads brine from nozzles at the back before a storm hits.
In recent years, highway departments have put more emphasis on attacking a storm before it strikes. The Maryland State Highway Administration activates more than a dozen brine-making facilities, then deploys its anti-icing trucks more than a day ahead of the bad weather. The solution spreads across the pavement and prevents the ice and snow from forming a bond with it, so the clearing operations are more efficient.