Botched commute: First two inches wreak havoc

news-snow-ivyWestbound Route 250 traffic, seen from the Toddsbury lot at 6:56pm, crawled through the village of Ivy.

Commuter vehicles driven without appropriate equipment or skills are scattered like toys tonight, as the first two inches of what could become a two-foot snowfall brought Charlottesville-Albemarle transportation to a near standstill.

There were two vehicles stopped on westbound Route 250 Bypass just west of the McIntire Road exit around 6:15pm, turning the normal commuter artery into a capillary. Meanwhile, on Interstate 64, traffic never got above 30mph, and several drivers–- apparently traumatized by the concept of driving in snow–- were running with their emergency blinkers.

The situation in Albemarle on Dick Woods Road bordered on the ridiculous, as a reporter counted nine vehicles nosed into ditches along a half-mile stretch near Ivy Depot.

Two cars that smashed together head-on on Route 250 west of Morgantown Road stalled traffic and made for a 3 1/2-hour commute from downtown Charlottesville to Crozet for those leaving around 4:30pm. On Ivy Road heading west, speeds at times reached 5mph until grinding to a soul-deadening halt for hours. Route 240 and its uphill trajectory also proved tricky for autos without four- or front-wheel drive, causing further delays.

"It's surprising that the salt is not doing as good a job as it usually does," said City spokesperson Ric Barrick, who reserved blame for the havoc on commuters who waited downtown too long and set out without four-wheel-drive vehicles.

"We'll start plowing when it gets to three inches, so that should start shortly," Barrick said at 7:25pm. "VDOT hasn't started plowing yet either."

Barrick explained that plows require sufficient snow to create a buffer between blade and pavement to avoid injuring the asphalt.

Updated 9:16pm December 18.

Read more on: snowsnowfall


quote: "I know how to drive in this stuff, and I’m usually quick to make fun of most Cvillians’ winter driving skills, but this is a bad snow. Even with only 2 or 3 inches on the ground, the roads were already very dangerous."

Correct. This is exactly what I based my opinion on of people realizing they needed to park rear wheel drive vehicles and make other arrangements. Even front wheel drive is questionable in this particular storm.

quote: "I’ve lived here 37 years: I don’t ever remember hearing about such a traffic nightmare caused by a snowstorm."

Same here. But I have been here 56 years. :)

I have never seen any "fast and furious" snowstorm such as this cause so many problems so quick. I'm at a total loss to explain it other than to say it's just very poor driving skills.

Back in 1996, I drove a rear wheel drive police package Chevrolet Caprice in 26" of snow and never got stuck anywhere!

The people of central Virginia need to be trained to drive in snow. I realize that this type of weather is rare down here but if it happens and people don't know how to react it's a disaster waiting to happen.Please people remember to leave more room between cars!

How is he gonna take a swipe at people doing 30mph on the interstate with their blinkers on? Ben said it perfectly - the key is to leave room. You can be the best driver in the world, but you will never be fully immune to someone else's errors. Its a shame the storm hit right at the rush hour commute

In a fast and furious storm such as this, the ideal solution for rear wheel drive vehicles would have been studded snow tires. And the drivers of RWD cars would not have been blocking every road in the city and county. But most people are too lazy to put them on and off during the time period thay are allowed in Virginia.

It's snow!!!!! Most down here don't even know what a "rush hour" is- try Northern VA once on a Friday in the snow!! Heck, try Northern VA any Friday afternoon, snow or not!

Learn to drive in the snow?? Just learn to drive, period.........

Once everyone gets off the roads and settles down, remember--there are those unable to fare well in extreme weather conditions, particularly if power outages become part of this story; so while we enjoy this blast from the past ( first really big storm in years ), think about your neighbors, who may need a helping hand or shoveled walk. Maybe, this will be the true spirit of Christmas, not the presents and parties, but time at home and time to spend with one's neighbors.

I realize people getting off from work this evening want to get home just as bad as anybody else. But it was rear wheel drive cars causing most of the roadblocks in the city limits. People should have enough sense to park rear wheel drive vehicles in conditions like out there right now (8:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.). I just got home from picking up a sister-in-law and niece. I had 4 wheel drive and had no problem moving myself whatsoever. But almost every road in the city was blocked by idiots with rear wheel drive spinning out sideways in the road, thereby blocking both directions.

Strange night out there tonight. In 2 hours of driving back and forth across town, I never saw any cop shoppe cars, no wreckers, and no taxis. Absolutely none. Having said that, I guess everybody was on their own. There was no help to be found anywhere for these people. (Having had a cop shoppe scanner with me, I even heard a fire truck was stuck somewhere. I do not recall where it was though!)

To sum it all up, tonight was the worst driving I have ever seen in my life anywhere.

Rear wheel drive is way better if you have REAL snow tires and add a little weight into the trunk. Front wheel drive cars may help you accelerate better but are way worse for getting out of a slide. They are imbalanced and the front wheel drive makes them usually have very low ground clearance.

My wife is stuck on 29 north by Wal-Mart. Anyone know what's going on there?

Bill, rear wheel drive cars most likely blocking the roadway. They're blocking roads everywhere!

I just heard on the scanner where a cop shoppe car stuck and trying to get his car out of the middle of the road somewhere.

I was out in it around 6:30 - I know how to drive in this stuff, and I'm usually quick to make fun of most Cvillians' winter driving skills, but this is a bad snow. Even with only 2 or 3 inches on the ground, the roads were already very dangerous. I made it home and parked and plan on staying in.

memories of childhood danced in their heads -and the moon on the crest of the new fallen snow --so beautiful I can't sleep

C, your explanation sounds good. But everything I saw tonight was extremely poor driving skills, combined with improper equipment.

Sorry car captives, WINA has left the local scene; sad, it would have been a community service to stay on with people calling in for help and trying to get info about road conditions.

Tim, the last time I played that number, RWD in conditions like tonight, was in 1979. And I was driving a brand new Corvette. Left my uncle's grocery store at 10:00 p.m. and had to travel the 250 bypass from Barrack's Road to Free Bridge. Thank God everybody else was finally off the road by the time I left. :)

GSBO - what frequency are you on? I'm trying the scanner but am not coming up with anything.

I grew up in New England where my parents still live. No one in my family has ever owned an AWD or 4WD vehicle and has never been in an accident in snow/ice conditions. The key is to 1)not go out unless you have to 2) Use low gears! This is very important. It is more intuitive for people driving a car with manual transmission, but automatics can do it too. You want to use your brakes as little as possible. 3) Leave space, take your time, and be patient. 4WD/AWD vehicles sometimes think they are invincible - they are not. They need to slow down too. Riding someones tail isn't going to get you there any faster.

I agree that people around here don't seem to understand the concept of "safe following distance" even on dry roads.

Left DC at 3pm, and did fine until reaching Gordonsville around 5:30pm. Rt 15 to Zion X-Roads, and then 64 West to C-ville from there was 20-30mph the whole way. In the city it sucks to drive in slippery conditions with an idiot 5 feet off your bumper. Not much room for error.

After an hour of failed attempts to get my Toyota minivan up the gentle hill going out of the Willoughby Food Lion parking lot, I turned off the "stability traction control" and had no problem once the drive wheels could spin until they caught a grip.

If you have a newer car and can't get your wheels to turn even when flooring it try turning off your traction control. Then get HOME and hunker down!

Got it backwards, Bill. Just heard on WINA that they actually are diverting 29N over to 29S for a while starting around Forest Lakes and switching back to 29N around Holly Meade. Regardless, all the switching and competing with traffic going the other direction it's slow going. Or so says WINA. They're doing pretty decent traffic reporting right now.

I feel ya gasbag, I feel ya. Im one of the people with a rwd sports car - made it home just before 6 and even at that time it was pretty tricky. Had I waited another hour it would not have been pretty

i just got off 29s and it is a parking lot there. people are going to be stuck there for a long time, possibly overnight. we had no problems in the 4x4 except for all of you idiots who have crappy tires and rear wheel drive. it took me 3 or more hours to drive 20 miles tonight.

gasbag - Studs are for ice, not snow. I am not there, but looking at the temps, the answer is not studs, but the soft rubber and deep siping on modern winter tyres. The set I have does NOT have studs - Hakkapalitas - and they will get you going up a slope on ice without studs. Modern technology on tyres is so incredibly ahead of the old giant cleats with studs its not even funny. Many modern winter tyres have compounds that are slightly rough and and sort of 'pop' out when the weight of the car is on the tyre.

for the record, you sould have winter tyres on ALL FOUR WHEELS, because 70% of your braking is from the front wheels of the car.

B- totally with you on that. People need to learn how to use their torque.

Mich - I find that RWD gives you steering at BOTH ends :>)). FWD does not, and you got it right on balance. My father raced cars, and we sure learned a lot about balance.

J - yeah, that's really my point. Know your tools. With a manual gear box I just put the car in 1st, then 2nd gear, but rarely touch the gas. i let the engine torque do 90% the work, for speed, and braking. In an automatic, I still use the gear box for slowing, and make sure that if I need to actually brake, I take the car out of drive. People forget that in drive the car is still ' pushing' forward.

Then of course, we have people who do not udnerstand how to get a car moving again once they do get a bit stuck. a little rocking goes a long way. If you have traction control - and my big super 5700lb fancy exotic sedan does - you need to turn it off, to rock it and get some momentum while your wheels spin. Then keep moving.

You know, everytime I hear about how bad RWD cars are, i wonder how people ver got around for so many decades in them in snow storms. But they did. i have been driving primarily RWD all my life, and I find I get along fine. I drive my Volvo wagon through 18 inches of snow once. I had winter tyres on, but that's what you should have on ANY car. i have driven up solid ice slopes in RWD with snow tyres.

My Lord, people in Sweden drive in RWD all the tiem in tons of snow.

Yes, I have owned a 4wd, and it had its place, but mostly, people just don't know how to use their vehicles.

The trick to all snow driving is an even steady pace and not stopping on hills.

Stop blaming your tools. blame the one constant factor- the person behind the wheel.

Bill, 11:18 p.m., just heard a county cop tell dispatch he sure could use a little more assistance at Polo Grounds Road. So whatever the problem is, your wife is indeed tied up out there.

Guess I'm one of the lucky ones, home by the fire- just tuned into WINA and there are people stuck in their cars everywhere in this community. Reports of tractor trailer overturned on RT. 20 and 3hr. drive from Rio Rd. to Walmart on 29.

I've lived here 37 years: I don't ever remember hearing about such a traffic nightmare caused by a snowstorm. If you are stuck in your car, tune into 10:70 AM on your radio and they will help up-date you and take your calls. You're doing a super job Leon !

Bill, an older scanner will no longer work. You have to have a new APCO 25 capable digital trunking scanner to recieve the city and county police now. Something like the Radio Shack hand held version PRO-106 or the desk/mobile version Radio Shack PRO-197. They run $499 at Radio Shack, but go on sale real often for $399. They are extremely hard to program though. I program them for a lot of my friends and all of the local wrecker drivers.

In reference to the Polo Grounds, I think several cops said they have parked their cop shoppe cars and walking up to the cars that are stuck and blocking the road.

I moved here in July from Richmond, and one of the first things I did was buy an Outback. I know this weather is less frequent than it used to be, but this is the mountains, and mountains get snow. Isn't that why a lot of the come-heres came here in the first place?

Bart, the major roads everywhere are still a three ring circus. All it takes is one stuck car to cause 3 others to get stuck, and then traffic is backed up for miles.

Just heard people are being shuttled from the blocked roads to the Lake Monticello Clubhouse now for overnight accomodations.

I have 2 large 4X4 SUVs sitting out in the garages, but the only reason I am at home is because everybody else has the roads blocked for miles. Otherwise I would be out playing in the snow. :)

While I think driving skills may have something to do with it, I think when you combine a pretty nasty storm with UVa students leaving for break, holiday shoppers, ordinary after work traffic, a growing community and a transportation network that hasn't been expanded in several years you get what's going on tonight.

ps - these drivers out here now with rear wheel drive think the newfangled "all season" tires are snow tires.

Well, ahh, they aren't by any stretch of the imagination anything close to being a true snow tire.

I am hearing that even at this late hour, 250 west between Farmington and Crozet is still a sh!tshow.....can anyone confirm? it took me 2.5 hours to get from downtown to Ivy via 250 and i actually cut off of 250 and took some backroads (Old Ballard, Owensville). despite the heavier snow on the backroads, i actually thought conditions were much better on those roads than the main roads. Not sure what the story was, but the combination of heavy traffic, slush, new snow, and ineffective salting made 250 much more treacherous than untreated snow back roads (I did have all wheel drive and took my time--15-20 mph---but it was not precarious at those slow speeds).

yeah i hear you Gasbag. the one thing that really gave me pause on the back roads were a couple of cars who literally rode my bumper for about a mile. I really couldn't believe they wouldn't think about what they were doing.

I had a friend who just called and said he was took him 3.5 hours to get from Ivy Nursery to Harris Teeter in Crozet.

Gotta agree with Caesonia...

Its not the RWD that does it... its that most current RWD cars also have big engines and wide tires... that makes it hard to be smooth, and hard to get the tires to not ride up on top of the snow.

They should put lil snowflakes on the plates of your car to show that you can't drive in the snow like the lil wheelchair dude for the handicapped folk.

From what I've seen tonight, the "slurry" prep VDOT uses on the roads does nothing but make you cough and sneeze. Bunch of non drivers out on the roads.

Y'all have my word I'll stay off the roads from now on! I have very little experience driving in snow, but ran out to the store this evening to stock up on provisions. I lost control of my car on the 9th Street overpass by the Pavillion. Fishtailed a good 4 or 5 times before I was able to get straight. Scared the crap outta me! I drove home in 1st gear!!

In the morning, after all the snow-zombies are off the road, I am gonna crank my SUV up and go joyriding. It's actually still a virgin, has never been driven in the snow since I bought it.

I drove my daughter's earlier this evening just to make sure the 4X4 was functioning and working properly.

Well my wife is still out on 29. Still no sign of what's going on but she said she can see police lights up ahead.

12:03 AM-- WINA just came back on the air, way to go Leon,--just reported 11" of snow on Cherry Ave. So if you need help call Leon at 977-1070 or tune into 10:70 am radio.

I just got in from 250W. Pushed a car up hill on 250 eastbound near Northridge, then picked up a westbound older couple near Ivy and another guy who was walking to Crozet. Got them home via 4wd but I had to dodge a bunch of stuck cars. Then I picked up a doctor on Owensville and took him home so he could get a 4wd and return to the hospital.

It's bad but you can get by if you know what you are doing. I feel guilty for not going back out to pick up others who are walking home.

Both lanes on Rt 15 now going south to Palmyra no northbound traffic allowed, just reported by a man who has been on the road for 5 hrs from Charlottesville to Palmyra.

20 miles south of Charlottesville, on 29S headed toward Cville, woman reports they haven't moved more than a mile in 5 hours.

Bill, my boyfriend finally got past Walmart on 29N. Took hours and hours to move only a mile or so. It's people blocking lanes by getting stuck. Mostly RWD, no doubt. Apparently part of 29S has been closed up around Holly Mead. In a quick, "gotta go" cell call, he implied that one lane of 29N was being used to accomodate people going south where they'd closed the lanes on the other side. Not sure if I heard him correctly, but that's what it sounded like he said.

Thanks for the update. I saw on the VDOT traffic cam at Hollymeade that a flood of cars had gone by. Good news, at least. Hopefully it doesn't happen again a minute up the road.