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Virginia governor declares state of emergency ahead of winter storm

The declaration comes as state officials face scrutiny over their response to a Jan. 3 storm that left hundreds stranded on I-95

Interstate 95 around mile marker 128 in Spotsylvania County, Va., is devoid of traffic on Jan. 4. Hundreds of motorists were stranded after a winter storm snarled traffic and left some drivers stuck in place for hours. (Tristan Lorei/AP)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Friday declared a state of emergency ahead of a winter storm expected to hit the region this weekend, with the worst effects in the Washington region expected late Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

Northam’s action will allow emergency responders to begin preparing their response, such as moving supplies and equipment to the areas expected to be most affected.

The declaration comes as state transportation officials face scrutiny over their handling of a storm that blanketed the region Jan. 3, causing crashes and significant delays on Interstate 95. It forced the shutdown of more than 40 miles of the interstate, stranding hundreds of motorists overnight, many without food and water.

Winter storm late Sunday to bring snow, ice and rain along with dangerous road conditions

Northam and state emergency officials conducted a joint preparation call Friday with Gov. elect-Glenn Youngkin (R) and his transition team. Youngkin will be sworn in on Saturday.

“We expect this storm to have a significant impact in many parts of Virginia,” Northam said in a statement that accompanied the declaration. “Declaring a state of emergency now allows our emergency responders to prepare, and to move supplies and equipment where they expect to need them the most. This also gives Governor-elect Youngkin the ability to respond to any storm needs swiftly.”

Road crews began pretreating I-95 and other state roads Thursday with a salt brine solution designed to prevent ice from bonding to the pavement during winter weather, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The state’s emergency operations center has been monitoring the storm. Northam urged Virginians to take preparations before the wintry weather arrives.

The Capital Weather Gang says the storm is expected to move into the D.C. region on Sunday afternoon and into the early evening, and predicts one or two inches of snow accumulation and higher amounts west of Washington. On Sunday night, the snow could transition to ice, then rain.

Crews in Virginia starting to pretreat roadways in anticipation of MLK weekend snow

CWG said current models suggest a short period of snow near and east of Interstate 95 — perhaps only a couple of hours — before changing to sleet and freezing rain, limiting totals. However, since temperatures will hover around freezing for at least 36 hours in advance of the storm, any precipitation will probably stick to roads and walkways, making for potentially difficult driving conditions later in the day Sunday.

Many officials and weather experts said VDOT should have done more to prevent the Jan. 3 fiasco, given that it received detailed forecast information. But the VDOT officials said they could not pretreat roads ahead of that storm because there was a forecast of rain that would have washed the pretreatment away. Independent snow-removal experts agree that roads cannot be pretreated for snow when the snowfall is preceded by rain.