Peninsula digging out after winter's first snowstorm

Contact Reporterjoreyes@dailypress.com
Peninsula uncovered after winter's first snowstorm

The snow that fell in droves and seized up the Peninsula on Saturday left a thick blanket covering yards, roofs, cars and just about anything else outdoors. But after the year's first winter storm deposited its 8 to 12 inches of powder, things were a bit calmer on Sunday.

Area churches canceled services and encouraged people to relax at home to watch recorded services online. Local law enforcement plastered social media with advisories to keep off the road unless absolutely necessary. State police still responded to 21 crashes and 142 disabled vehicles in Hampton Roads between 6 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday, but that was down from a total of 120 crashes and 292 disabled vehicles in the area from midnight to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Even though the usual activity on the Peninsula slowed for snowed-in residents, Sunday was not a day of rest for everyone — the blanket of snow and the ice that lay below it had to go. For the crews digging out the Peninsula, plowing roads and spreading salt and sand, Sunday was a work day.

Greg Dolak, associate director of maintenance and facilities support for York County schools, said his team was up early to clear out the parking lots of the 18 school sites in the county. On Saturday, they plowed the Williamsburg area locations, and they hit the York and Grafton zones Sunday.

Dolak wouldn't call the school division's arsenal of six plow trucks, two backhoes and several snowblowers a fleet, but he said all the equipment was in use Sunday, along with his whole team of 25 tradesmen.

The full response was necessary; Dolak said this was the most snow he's had to clear in the more than 10 years he's worked in maintenance and facilities for the school division.

Mike Marfell shoveled show and ice from the sidewalk in front of SunTrust Bank in the Hilton area of Newport News Sunday morning. While the lot had just a few inches of snow, Marfell, who works for a private contractor, said he'd seen up to 10 inches of snow in some areas. His crew started shoveling and plowing local business parking lots early Saturday and had just a four-hour break overnight, he said.

Marfell said he was surprised to see people out driving when roads were especially hazardous Saturday night into early Sunday. He said he saw several crashes and disabled vehicles on the Peninsula and Southside. "It was pretty intense, actually," he said.

Matt Yarborough, a member of the grounds crew at Christopher Newport University, said it had been all hands on deck for the roughly 50 CNU employees tasked with clearing the campus. Yarborough said they had been working 12-hour shifts starting at 2 a.m. Saturday, shortly after snow started to fall.

"It was like an ice rink this morning," Yarborough said Sunday afternoon, taking a quick break from pushing snow from sidewalks with a small front-end loader. "You've just got to keep at it."

At that time, snow had been cleared from the sidewalks and walkways throughout the campus, and crews were spreading sand and ice on the roads. Students milled past workers, traveling between their residence halls and the dining hall. For them, their first day of spring semester classes had been canceled.

Strickland's Outdoor Solutions, a Poquoson-based landscaping business that opened in April 2016, was busy with two crews working Saturday afternoon, overnight and all day Sunday to get business parking lots and residential driveways cleared, owner Bob Strickland said.

"I'm going to be basically working through the night to get businesses open," Strickland said.

The demand for snow removal services is motivating customers to pay more for quicker service, and the new business is benefiting from the snow during its first winter, according to Strickland. Still, he said the work would be easier if folks would stay off roads and parking lots until they're clear.

Even as roadways and parking lots were plowed and sanded Sunday, there was concern over icy conditions lingering into the week. Although it was sunny Sunday,, temperatures did not climb above freezing, and Monday has much of the same in store; the National Weather Service's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high temperature of 30 and a low of 17.

"Falling temperatures across the region tonight will cause refreezing and dangerous, icy conditions," VDOT stated in a news release Sunday afternoon. "VDOT will continue to treat ramps, bridges and overpasses, but motorists are reminded they are the first to freeze. Motorists are urged to avoid driving, if possible."

Yarborough said crews at CNU already saw refreezing from Saturday into Sunday and called it one of the biggest challenges with clearing the snow. He said they had been putting down snow melt to prevent more ice from forming.

After Monday, the weather is expected to assist in the snow-clearing effort. Tuesday will be a little more cloudy and a little warmer, with temperatures climbing above freezing and staying close to 40 degrees. Wednesday and Thursday will be warmer, with highs of 53 and 64 respectively.

Staff writers Sarah Ketchum and Tara Bozick contributed to this story. Reyes can be reached by phone 757-247-4692.

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