Guest Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

It hasn’t snowed yet, but this stretch of pre-holiday cold weather reminds us that a dreaded “wintry mix” may be upon us sooner, rather than later.  Meteorologists predict a milder winter (less snow), but we all know what happens when even a few flakes are forecast.  Bread, milk, and eggs disappear from grocery shelves, and students try to decide whether to finish their homework if school is delayed or cancelled.  

A repeat of the infamous blizzard that shut down portions of Interstate 95 in Virginia, stranding thousands of motorists in early January, is unlikely to repeat, but there were a lot of lessons learned.  The state investigation of the I-95 debacle revealed many missteps in communication between and among state agencies responsible for road maintenance and safety, but many motorists were unprepared as well.  Creating an emergency kit to carry in your vehicle is not difficult, nor expensive.  An old tote bag or small suitcase could hold a few bottles of water, some non-perishable snacks, a flashlight and fresh batteries, tissues, paper and pen, and a small blanket or throw.  Stash it in the trunk or backseat and remember to replace items that are used.  Check and update the contents in the fall of each year.  You may never have to use the emergency kit, but you’ll be glad you have it when you need it.  

As winter approaches, your vehicle needs to be ready, too.  Ensure that your headlights and taillights are in proper working order, and that they are clean and visible.  Road spray can dim them; you probably won’t notice it, but other motorists will.  Seems like only a little spray when you hit the button, but you can use up a lot of fluid in a bad winter.  Check the level of windshield washer fluid and top off or replace with fresh fluid.  I learned how to do that myself; it’s not difficult!  Don’t forget to clean the inside of the windshield, too, as well as the other windows, and mirrors.  Clean windows help make your trips safer, especially in areas frequented by pedestrians.  Keeping your vehicle fueled up also will make winter driving less fraught with anxiety.  Some of the complaints in the January blizzard centered on running out of fuel; travelers were not expecting extreme weather problems, and when the road conditions worsened, they were unprepared for multiple hours of shutdowns. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), a state agency, is responsible for snow plowing and maintenance of most roadways in Fairfax County.  Under VDOT’s guidelines, plows are not dispatched for snowfalls of two inches or less.  In most situations, the underlying temperature of the roadway, and traffic, is enough to keep a road passable.  In heavier snowfalls, VDOT contractors plow to open at least one lane of traffic in residential areas.  Subsequent passes may open additional lanes, but curb-to-curb plowing may be difficult because of parked vehicles on neighborhood streets.  Information about VDOT’s neighborhood plowing may be found at

Winter weather is a given; some years are mild, and others are not, but a little preparation now will save headaches later.  Perhaps the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet had the right idea: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”  Keep that thought!