F.C. Crews a Match for ‘Snowzilla’ Mega-Storm, Recovery Continuing

ONE OF FALLS CHURCH’S NEW TRUCKS helping with snow removal in the City Wednesday. (Photo: News-Press)
ONE OF FALLS CHURCH’S NEW TRUCKS helping with snow removal in the City Wednesday. (Photo: News-Press)

A number of factors contributed to the ability of the City of Falls Church, its public works team and citizens, to maintain during possibly the heaviest snow storm, a veritable blizzard, in regional history last weekend.

According to City Manager Wyatt Shields, the snowfall totals in the City ranged from 22 to 27 inches, possibly the “largest single snow event” at least in the recent era. “I know of no other with more,” he said. The snow was also accompanied by high wind conditions throughout.

But despite all that, there were no power outages reported and by early Monday, a lane for vehicular passage was cleared to every house in the City, making Falls Church the first jurisdiction in the region to accomplish that.

New equipment and a new approach have also contributed to minimizing the impact of the storm, known most commonly, or as they say these days, “trending” mostly as “Winter Storm Jonas” and “Snowzilla” (“Snowmageddon” remains the premier moniker for the big one of 2010).

The City’s public works staff, totaling 20, was helped in its work by four new dump trucks that were able to both plow and remove snow. The trucks were recently acquired to replace old ones by votes of the Falls Church City Council, two in Fiscal Year 2015 and two more this fiscal year, at a cost of about $90,000 each. They were all delivered in the last year.

“Not only were they more reliable, with no major breakdowns, but they were much more powerful,” Mike Collins, director of Public Works for the City, told the News-Press Wednesday. In storms like this one, such equipment takes a terrible beating, but these trucks did not miss a beat, he said.
But it was the public works staff that gets the lion’s share of credit, Collins and Shields agreed. They were on the scene from Thursday night through Tuesday, working in two shifts and sleeping and resting during their breaks at the City’s Property Yard on Gordons Road.

Tuesday night was “the first time most of them were able to sleep in their own beds since last Thursday, Collins said. “I am very pleased. They did a terrific job.”

As the efforts to clear City’s streets continue, the City crews are in consultation with the City School System to make sure bus routes are clear. The schools announced yesterday that they will also be closed this Thursday. Also, citizens and businesses are reminded that they are responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes and establishments.

In addition to the high quality of performance by the crews and their new equipment last weekend, other factors that worked in favor of mitigating the potentially monstrous impacts of the storm included the role of Dominion Power in paring back tree branches and other foliage from power lines, something that has been its ongoing policy since Hurricane Isabel in 2003 knocked out power to a large part of the City for days.

Also, the winds, which officials feared would trigger power outages, turned out to do the opposite, Shields said, because they were just strong enough to blow accumulations of snow and ice off power lines and trees, instead of knocking the lines down.

Then there was a new approach to the snow removal off of streets, Collins recounted, which was aided, of course, by the new equipment. “Once we cleared a path to every house in the City by Monday morning, we decided not to continue plowing many of the roads further, because that would have led resulted in countering the efforts of many citizens trying to clear out their driveways and parking spots on the streets by plowing snow back onto them.

Due to the massive volume of snow dumped onto the City, the decision was also made in certain areas to actually pick up and remove the snow, not just piling it up in neighborhoods.

This required streets to be temporarily closed in some areas, such as on S. Virginia Ave. leading into Winter Hill, which was closed for much of the day and clean ups continued yesterday.

Finally, Collins said a contributing factor were citizens who were positive, complimentary and cooperative in what often became a collective effort. “We got a lot of positive feedback and in many cases partnered with citizens to dig out an area,” Collins said.

Falls Church Mayor David Tarter wrote the News-Press Wednesday with the following assessment, “Falls Church and the entire D.C. metro region experienced one of the largest snowfalls on record last weekend. Despite the historic nature of the storm, City staff was up to the challenge…I’m proud of City staff for their hard work and dedication to the community. As we work toward a full recovery, I would like to remind folks to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses, drive carefully, watch out for pedestrians and children at bus stops, and to take extra time and care as they travel City streets.”

When the snow and wind started up midday Friday, the City and environs quickly became like ghost towns as the streets emptied and almost every business shut down.

One exception was Ireland’s Four Provinces, which right in the center of town was determined to stay open to serve adventurous patrons who would take the trouble to get there. It was actually very busy Saturday night, owner Colm Dillon reported. It helped that some of his employees live only a couple blocks away.

According to Susan Finarelli of the City’s Public Information Office, David and Rebecca Tax of Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Mike’s Deli delivered food to the public works crews at the Property Yard, and a number of individual citizens did as well.

With the storm raging Saturday, news crews from all the local TV channels were moving around in their four-wheel drive units, including up and down Route 7 traversing Falls Church between Tysons Corner and Bailey’s Crossroads. In Bailey’s Channel 4 reporter David Culver was reporting on the snow when a crew of volunteers shoveling the snow at a fire station behind him decided that, for the camera, they would start throwing the snow on each other. It was hilarious.

The Rev. John Ohmer emailed his parishioners that the Falls Church Episcopal would open up for a single informal service Sunday morning for anyone living close by enough to get there.

The same morning a couple blocks away, the Falls Church Community Center was opened for free play, but citizens were cautioned by a City email blast that there was no place to park anywhere around it.

A number of scheduled events, of course, were canceled or postponed. A City forum on a vision for the W&OD Trail set for last Saturday was called off and reset for the same time and place this coming Saturday morning. The same for a Falls Church League of Women Voters forum last Sunday afternoon. It will be this coming Sunday afternoon.

Performances at the ArtSpace of Falls Church by the Creative Cauldron were also called off last weekend, and Producing Director Laura Hull said that critical rehearsal time was lost for its world premiere show, ‘Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” which will now begin with previews this Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.