Unpreparedness Over Last Week's Winter Storm One of Final Mistakes Marring Northam's Time as Governor

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Posted: Jan 14, 2022 9:30 PM
Unpreparedness Over Last Week's Winter Storm One of Final Mistakes Marring Northam's Time as Governor

Source: AP Photo/Steve Helber

Tomorrow, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) will leave office and be replaced by Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who was elected last November. On Northam's final day, it's worthwhile to examine one of the more recent scandals he faced in his administration. Virginia's winter storm made national news last Tuesday after a shutdown on I-95, one of the oldest interstate highway systems on the country, left motorists stranded in their cars for more than a day. Among them included Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and former Del. Lashecse Aird (D). 

The shutdown made news not merely because of the high profile status of some of the people trapped and for how long, but because of a lack of preparedness from Northam. This was further fueled by social media reactions from those who blamed the incident on Youngkin, as many ignorantly tweeted before thinking to check who was actually in office, which our friends at Twitchy picked up on. 

Some users even changed their tunes once they learned the truth, with their selective outrage depending solely on who was in charge.

Others couldn't help themselves from mocking Northam for his Black Face/KKK scandal.

Northam's response was bad, even for him. Communication from his end, at one point, included a tweet indicating that "sunlight is expected to help."

As if that wasn't bad enough, the governor even took issue with people daring to push him further. In an interview with Newsradiowrva.com, Northam got testy and said that he was "sick and tired" of being asked to explain "what went wrong" and even blamed the motorists who had been stuck. 

"Why don't you start asking some of these individuals that were out on the highways," he asked. "Why did you feel it was so important to drive through such a snowstorm?"

The relevant department, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) wasn't much better. On that Tuesday morning, VDOT reportedly refused interviews with local outlets.

The department also claimed that they couldn't have done anything differently, as Graham Moomaw reported for Virginia Mercury. Motorists begged to differ, though, including Aird, who spoke with Moomaw. 

From his reporting:

State Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, her husband, their two boys and the family dog were stranded overnight while returning from a holiday trip to New York. In an interview, Aird said her group was stuck in Stafford County for more than 15 hours, making it through the night with pretzels and Nutri-Grain bars picked up from a gas station. At times, she said, they turned off the car to try to conserve gas, unsure when they’d be able to refuel or buy more food.

“How is it something like this could happen in present day?,” she said.

Aird said she’s not buying the claim the state did all it possibly could.

“You knew that we were there but there was no information provided,” she said. “I think that more deliberate care and concern could have been shown. If you have the option of sending the National Guard to come in with blankets and these sorts of things, why not do it when people needed it most?”

Officials from VDOT, the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said both the intensity of the storm and the hazardous conditions it created complicated the state’s response.

The affected portion of road wasn’t pre-treated to prevent ice and snow buildup, according to VDOT engineer Marcie Parker, because the storm began as rain before turning to sleet and snow.

“If we pre-treat, the rain just washes it away,” Parker said. “So we’re really just wasting product and wasting money and interrupting the traffic flow.”

For nearly five hours Monday, Parker, said, snow was falling in the area at a rate of more than two inches per hour.

“That was entirely too much for us to keep up with,” Parker said. “Consequently, with the amount of traffic that we had on the interstate, the trucks and the cars couldn’t make it up and down the hills because we had too much snow and ice out there. So many vehicles got stuck in both the northbound and southbound directions.”

Like Northam, VDOT's response appeared to be about placing the blame elsewhere:

Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, stressed that authorities had been encouraging people to stay off the roads starting Sunday. 

“We were doing everything we could to push that messaging out to discourage folks from traveling,” Geller said. “I don’t know if everyone heeded that warning or not. But we did have very consistent messaging.”

Concerns with the department go back years, though. Twitter users highlighted a VDOT tweet from September 21, 2021 to do with "a candid discussion" about liberal buzzwords like "diversity" and "equity."

Such a notably piss poor response came at the federal level as well. 

Early in the afternoon on last Tuesday, when people were still trapped in their cars, Vice President Kamala Harris touted from her official Twitter account that "America is moving again" and "That's what infrastructure is all about." 

Motorists would still be trapped in their cars and wouldn't be "moving again" for several more hours, as many took to reminding Harris.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg retweeted the U.S. Department of Transportation, which said it was "in communication" with VDOT.

He also went on retweet the above tweet from the vice president. He tweeted his own tone deaf tweet.

When it comes to the lack of a further response, some users offered that he was still on family leave, referring to the leave Buttigieg took for the birth of his two adopted twins. There was not only a supply chain crisis, but the secretary's leave was not properly communicated at the time. 

VDOT only just recently responded to the incident, known as Winter Storm Frida. In a particularly lengthy statement shared by Colleen Guerry for local outlet WFXR, the department managed to say a whole lot of nothing, other than recap the storm and indicate that there will be a review which "should take about six to eight weeks to complete and will address public messaging and communications, the mobilization of resources, coordination among agencies and how to mitigate the challenges that the three agencies will face in future extreme weather events." 

The department arguably threw themselves under the bus even more with part of the statement containing an acknowledgment of sorts. "Preparation for inclement weather is a formal, operational procedure for VDOT, VSP, and VDEM. Statewide teams meet ahead of all significant inclement weather events to receive official weather forecasts and review response plans, material levels, staffing updates and communications strategy," it read. 

When it comes to the incoming administration, Youngkin has received briefings on last week's winter storm. 

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