Outgoing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was criticized for not calling the National Guard for help this week when icy conditions left hundreds of motorists stranded for more than 24 hours along a stretch of I-95 near Fredericksburg. Now, chastened state officials said they’ll be ready as more snow and cold temperatures are predicted for the region.
The Virginia National Guard on Thursday said they have begun staging troops in anticipation of another winter weather response. Officials said 20 Air National Guard personnel from Virginia Beach began heading toward the Northern Virginia area and about 20 others are on duty and ready to respond in southwest Virginia.
Forecasters say the greater Washington area and portions of Virginia near the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains could get one to four more inches of additional snow starting Thursday night. Officials said the weather patterns Monday — rain followed by a heavy snow — hampered efforts to pre-treat the roads or to prevent heavy backups on I-95.
“Both groups are equipped with chain saws to conduct debris reduction operations to clear fallen trees to open blocked roads,” Virginia Guard officials said in a statement. “They will travel in heavy-duty trucks capable of navigating through heavy snow.”
Another group of 20 soldiers will muster in Richmond Thursday evening with chain saws and trucks to support operations in the Central Virginia area, officials said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Northam signed an emergency declaration authorizing the Virginia National Guard to activate troops to support state and local authorities in advance of possible severe winter weather.
“It is important our state agency partners know we are able to quickly respond when we are requested,” Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, director of the Virginia Guard’s joint staff, said in a statement. “We owe a special thanks to our families and employers. Without their support, we couldn’t perform our mission.”
Other Virginia Guard personnel will be on duty in the Richmond area to provide logistics and operations support to the personnel in the field, officials said.
The chaos along I-95 began earlier Monday after road conditions resulted in a crash involving several 18-wheeler trucks although no injuries were involved. Traffic along the interstate, the main Virginia artery leading to Washington, D.C., slowed a crawl then literally froze in place. Among the trapped motorists was Tim Kaine, Virginia’s junior U.S. senator and Hillary Clinton’s presidential running mate.
Drivers who were stuck in the massive backup shared food and cut their engines to save fuel as they waited for rescue crews that didn’t come for hours.
Mr. Northam has said the state will conduct an after-action review to determine what could have been done better. However, he will leave office on Jan. 15 when Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is sworn in.