Northern Virginia's small towns and little cities appear to have survived the Blizzard of '83 better than their larger, more urban neighbors closer to Washington--with a little help from friends, horses, tractors, snowmobiles and good country snow-sense.
Occoquan benefited from having a quarry operation in the heart of the town. The company that operates it, Vulcan Materials, sent out its two-story-high front-end loader and a smaller plow to clear all streets, alleys and even driveways of local residents. The job was done by Saturday night--without charge, according to Town Clerk Joan Jennings.
"When I-95 was still clogged with only one lane open and Rte. 7 in Falls Church was still closed down . . . the streets in Occoquan were completely clear, long before anyone else" in Northern Virginia, Jennings said.
Over the weekend in Middleburg, the hunt country capital, horses became a necessity, not a luxury.
"Lots of people rode into town," Town Administrator Gerard Rogers said. "And with some places still snowed in, a horse was the only way to get out. If you had a horse, you were in pretty good shape."
But not all residents have horses. A lot of them called Rogers to complain about the sorry job the town and state were doing clearing the roads, he said.
"We have done very poorly, with only one truck with a snowblade," he conceded. "We've had a lot of complaints."
In Hillsboro, the hilly, 19th-century town six miles from the West Virginia border, "snowmobiles were frequent sights over the weekend," according to Mayor Alexander Muir, who owns a goat farm in the center of town. Hillsboro's main road, Rte. 9, was cleared by the state, but most side roads were still unplowed and closed on Monday. Snowmobiles and tractors were common forms of transportation.
"But there have been no emergencies," said Muir. "We checked on our senior citizens, and everyone had enough fuel." In Hillsboro, that often means firewood, since about a third of the town's 125 residents heat with wood stoves.
In Round Hill, west of Purcellville, Mayor Jeffrey Wolford said the town got 30 to 36 inches of snow, about twice the amount recorded in downtown Washington. But even that was nothing compared to the snowstorm of 1966 that put the town into hibernation under drifts up to 20 feet high and closed county schools for weeks, said Wolford.
This time, he said, area school children probably would be back in school by today if the numerous Loudoun County dirt roads around his town are cleared.
Loudoun has more dirt roads than any other Virginia county, and "most of them were still closed" on Monday, Wolford said.
But Round Hill residents didn't seem to be concerned. When the snow stranded strangers in town, residents just took them in.
"It was nothing out of the ordinary," said Round Hill Mini Market owner Roy McClaughry, whose family took in a woman motorist from Winchester who wandered into the store Friday night after snow covered Rte. 7 and her car.
"Gave her sausage and eggs for breakfast and sent her on her way when the road got cleared. Can't remember her name. Think it was Thorpe," said McClaughry.
In larger towns like Leesburg, with four snowplow-equipped trucks working around the clock and few abandoned cars to contend with, "we had hardly any complaints," said deputy town manager Jeffrey Minor. By Monday, only the Leesburg Airport remained unplowed.
Abandoned cars became one of the major problems of urban areas in coping with the snowstorm. Falls Church police had about 30 abandoned cars towed, most of them on Broad Street (Rte. 7), but gave illegal parking tickets to only a few that did not have snow tires or chains, according to city spokeswoman Barbara Gordon.
Towing by private firms usually cost the hapless motorists about $35. City work crews, operating seven city snowplow trucks, worked around the clock from Friday night to Sunday noon, taking catnaps on tables and benches at the town property yard off Broad Street, Gordon said.
Fairfax City police, on the other hand, gave out 91 $10 parking tickets to abandoned cars over the weekend, but had only five towed off main arteries, according to city spokesman Thomas Welle.
The dozen express commuter buses that have operated in the city in lieu of Metrobuses since 1978 got bogged down in the snow Friday but made all scheduled runs Monday. The popular buses now carry about 500 city residents a day to the Pentagon subway station and downtown Washington.