Dominion Energy workers were busy in Stafford County on Friday morning preparing equipment ahead of a winter storm expected to strike the Fredericksburg region on Sunday.
“Yes, we’re ready. I think we’re ready every time,” Dominion Energy lead lineman Jason George of Spotsylvania County said. “Hopefully, it won’t be as critical [as the Jan. 3 storm], but we’re here to provide, and hopefully we can address outages in a timely manner and be safe about it.”
Forecasters said the winter storm is expected to bring a mix of snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain, along with strong gusts of wind well into Monday.
“For certain, there will be a lot of mixed precipitation this time,” National Weather Service meteorologist Luis Rosa said on Friday.
Rosa said the Fredericksburg area could see 2 to 4 inches of snow, which is expected to start falling late Sunday. Weather models show the snow will change to sleet, then freezing rain, with about one-tenth of an inch of ice covering the area. Around midnight, all precipitation is expected to turn to rain, but wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph will prevail into Monday, when temperatures are expected to reach the low 40s.
“There’s potential for trees to come down with the weight of the precipitation,” Rosa said, who added that could lead to power outages.
About two weeks ago, a winter storm left nearly one foot of heavy snow across the region. The fast-moving storm also downed hundreds of trees in a scene George described as “like a hurricane.” Many of the trees collapsed onto power lines, putting the lights out for 70,000 of Dominion’s local 116,00 customers at the peak of the outage. Some rural residents went without power for multiple days in below-freezing temperatures.
On Friday, Dominion workers said many of those delays in repairs during the last storm were caused by the closure of Interstate 95, when hundreds of vehicles took to unplowed or impassible county roadways. Many of those stray vehicles broke down or were simply abandoned, making it nearly impossible for utility workers and their vehicles to gain access to sites in need of critical repairs.
“It was very challenging just trying to get from A to B,” said Brian Jeter, a Dominion Energy overhead lineman trainee, who lives in Stafford County. “A lot of places we couldn’t get to with the shutting down of [Interstate] 95, it took all the interstate traffic and dumped it onto secondary roadways.”
On Friday, VDOT reported their crews have already started applying salt brine solution to major routes from Caroline to Quantico—along with the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula—in an effort to reduce the expected icing.
VDOT advises against unnecessary travel this weekend, and does not advise travel on Sunday at all. VDOT also urged motorists planning a trip over the weekend to monitor forecasts for the entire route they intend to take and exercise sound judgment before starting their trip. The Virginia State Police also ask motorists to consider avoiding travel during the storm.
The National Weather Service issued its own hazardous weather outlook for the Interstate 95 corridor through the Fredericksburg area, with an “Enhanced Winter Storm threat Sunday afternoon into early Monday morning which brings an increased potential of more significant travel impacts and more closures.”
Should power go out as Sunday’s storm passes over the region, Dominion representatives said residents should immediately notify the utility company of the outage and then monitor the progress of repairs though the company’s website. Dominion also urged residents to stay at least 30 feet away from downed power lines and ensure family members, pets and surrounding neighbors do the same.
Jeremy Slayton, a media relations specialist with Dominion, said restoration estimates customers see after making a report could change during the outage, depending on additional damage workers might discover once they get to the scene. He urged residents to be patient as crews work through those obstacles.
“Our goal is to get all of our customers’ power restored as quickly and as safely as possible,” Slayton said. “Our focus has always been to have as accurate information as possible provided to our customers.”
Slayton said Dominion Energy has already put in a request for mutual aid from other states to combat the coming storm. He said those crews are ready to converge on the Fredericksburg region in the event additional repair crews are needed. Earlier this month, hundreds of repair crews traveled to the Fredericksburg region from as far away as Indiana and Georgia to help get power restored to homes and businesses.
On Friday, Dominion officials also offered safety tips to consider as the storm approaches, including creating an emergency kit that includes flashlights, batteries, warm clothing, blankets or sleeping bags, hygiene items and face coverings, as well as a basic first-aid kit. Officials also recommend having health care information handy as well as checking and preparing home medical devices that rely on electrical power ahead of the storm.
George said preparation work will continue at the Stafford facility.
“We’ll have crews staged here and standing by, so as the storm comes in, we’ll be ready to work,” He said. “We’re ready.”
The Rappahannock Electric Cooperative reported their crews are also busy staging workers and equipment across their service territory. The co-op also said it has plenty of materials, utility poles and supplies at all of its locations, with addition shipments expected by the weekend. Like Dominion Energy, REC urges its customers to take steps now to prepare for the anticipated Sunday storm.
For outage maps, or to report an outage at your home or business, visit: dominionenergy.com or myrec.coop.
James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438