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'Lessons learned not implemented' | New report about the Virginia snowstorm that left traffic at standstill on I-95

I-95 was opened back up and drivers were finally off the interstate after being stranded in the middle of a snowstorm for more than 24 hours.

VIRGINIA, USA — Editor's Note: Video is from April 2022 about the incident.

Sometimes lessons are not learned the first time. According to a report released Friday from the Virginia state inspector general, similarities were found between the first major snowstorm of 2022 that shut down I-95 and a previous one. 

The snowstorm, which took place Jan. 3-4, moved across Virginia and when temperatures dropped after sunset, the snow and slush turned into an icepack that brought I-95 to a stop.

In total, a 40-mile stretch of the interstate was impacted and hundreds of drivers were left stranded in standstill traffic, including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia.)  

“This storm came at a time when many new snow removal contractors and employees were coming on board with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and had not undergone the typical training provided prior to COVID-19,” State Inspector General Michael Westfall said. “When the storm intensified and traffic slowed due to disabled vehicles, including jackknifed tractor trailers, the resulting traffic backed up significantly and impacted VDOT’s ability to clear the roadway as plows could not remove the accumulating snow.”

In the audit of the incident, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) found that lessons learned from a similar snow event, that happened in Dec. 2018 on I-81 near Bristol, were not used to help prevent this incident. The I-81 incident resulted in a VDOT After Action Report that included recommendations that could have been used to help.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) has general emergency plans for natural disasters, but no hazard-specific snow event response planning for the Commonwealth had been performed. 

Lastly, communication was lacking with the public to help prevent the amount of traffic entering the interstate. 

“Either the public received messages to avoid the area and ignored them or they did not receive the messages,” Westfall said.

The OSIG has recommended that going forward the state needs to improve on applying the lessons learned, snow-related disaster response, communication to the public, and recovery exercises and subsequent training should be performed.

VDOT, VDEM and Virginia State Police generally agreed with OSIG’s findings and recommendations, according to a news release.

Watch Next: Road closures: Virginia drivers stranded on snowy, icy roads

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