The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Winter hands region a late-season pounding
A southern Fauquier County man died Wednesday afternoon while attempting to take down snow-damaged trees on his property near the Stafford County line, police said.
It was the only storm-related fatality in the area reported so far, as rain and snow continued to fall through the night.
Joseph J. Brozina, 52, had been cutting down trees on Aquia Road when a piece fell on his head, said Lt. James Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office. He died at the scene, and the incident is still under investigation.
The heavy, wet snow—measuring about 6 inches in Fredericksburg to 14 inches in Orange—felled trees and power lines Wednesday. The first major snowstorm of the winter here caused widespread electrical outages, numerous traffic accidents and road closures, and closed most area schools Wednesday and today.
Aside from an influx of snow plows and crashes on Interstate 95, Wednesday’s winter storm made for a light traffic day on Fredericksburg area roads.
Early Wednesday in the region, slushy snow covered patches of some main roads and coated many secondary roads. By late afternoon, the main roads in Fredericksburg were mostly just wet. But the mix of snow and rain was supposed to fall into the night while wind gusts grew as the day wore on. Officials were concerned about roads becoming icy as the temperatures were expected to fall below freezing at night.
If there is a commute Thursday, it could be on some slick roads.
“Conditions may be especially slick on bridges, overpasses and ramps, which freeze first, and on secondary roads with low traffic volumes and shaded spots,” said Kelly Hannon of the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Due to snow accumulation blocking drainage systems, road surfaces may be damper than usual.”
Crews were set to stay on the road around the clock in an effort to keep the roads clear.
On Wednesday, much of the area seemed hunkered down as snow, rain and heavy winds swept through much of the state, including the Fredericksburg region, where slushy snow made for risky driving in some areas. But there were no rush hours to speak of with schools and the federal government closed. The Virginia Railway Express lines were shut down, but the commuter rail provider plans to run a full schedule today.
Even though many in the area were off from work and school, the roads and parking lots were mostly empty, aside from the plows clearing out the snow.
It’s a good thing area traffic was light, because the combination of heavy, wet snow and strong winds brought down trees and power lines onto numerous roads. At one point, U.S. 1 was shut down in the Massaponax area because of downed power lines. A tree fell onto State Route 3 in the Chancellorsville area, blocking the eastbound lanes. And at least one road in Spotsylvania was closed because of ice.
On the interstates, troopers and rescue personnel were kept busy as more than 2,000 calls had come in statewide by late afternoon, according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. The state police reported 556 crashes between midnight and 2 p.m. Wednesday. There were another 386 disabled vehicles.
Most of the crashes involved only property damage. No fatalities were reported as of Wednesday afternoon.
About 50,000 homes and businesses in the region were without electricity at the peak of the storm, according to Dominion Virginia Power, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative and Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative.
Statewide, outages topped 200,000 Wednesday.
Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman Daisy Pridgen said it was too early to tell Wednesday afternoon when power will be restored.
She said Dominion had about 4,000 employees working on Wednesday and may call in lineman from other states to help because of the large numbers of affected households in the western part of Virginia.
In the region, outages hit a peak in mid-afternoon, with tens of thousands without power in Culpeper, Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania counties. A few thousand outages were reported in Stafford and Caroline counties, while the city of Fredericksburg saw a few hundred throughout the day.
Spotsylvania-based Rappahannock Electric Cooperative said it secured additional crews in advance of the storm from other cooperatives, as well as right-of-way contractors and line contractors to assist with outages caused by the storm.
“Much of REC’s service area is rural and difficult to access under normal conditions. The crews will also clear trees and limbs from power lines once linemen are able to reach affected areas,” the release said.
Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative crews were out repairing lines Wednesday morning. Snow-ladened trees and branches continued to fall on power lines and cause outages in Fauquier, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford counties, the co-op said.
Vice President Larry Shaffer noted repairs can be time consuming.
“Removing a broken pole and installing another one takes four to six hours in the best of conditions,” he said. “With the snow coming down harder, it may take longer. We want customers affected by this outage to know we’re working as fast as we can to get power restored.”
Culpeper and Stafford counties declared local states of emergency Wednesday prior to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s declaration of a commonwealth-wide state of emergency because of the massive winter storm. The move authorizes state agencies to assist local governments responding to the snowstorm.
McDonnell’s office said more than 12 inches of snow fell in locations along the northern Interstate 81 corridor, and about 170,000 customers in Virginia were without power.
Falling tree limbs downed power lines in Culpeper, forcing some businesses to close for most of the day, according to town police. However, most electricity was restored by late afternoon.
Because of the outages, Culpeper County opened a cold weather shelter at the Salem Fire Department on Sperryville Pike. Orange County opened a shelter in the Rescue Squad Building in the town of Orange.
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976