Snow fakeout proves pricey for local governments

Correction:

A previous version of this story misspelled Karyn LeBlanc's name.

After being bombarded with dual 20-inch storms last winter — and receiving plenty of criticism for slow response times — local jurisdictions and the D.C. region’s state transportation agencies were prepared for what was supposed to be the first major snowstorm of the year.

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Long story short

The great faux-snow of 2010 cost VaDOT more than $1M

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TV meteorologists and the National Weather Service had predicted the Washington area would be hit with up to 10 inches of snow on Sunday. Officials readied their response, with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) both issuing preemptive state of emergency declarations.

The storm never arrived. The region maxed out with .4 inches in Alexandria. And the missed forecast proved to be pretty pricey.

The Virginia Department of Transportation spent "well over a million dollars" in Northern Virginia over the weekend readying for the great faux-snow of 2010, according to spokeswoman Joan Morris. The department had about 1,700 trucks on the road, Morris says.

A million bucks is a lot of money, but it won’t bankrupt the agency, which has $33 million to spend on snow removal in Northern Virginia this year, according to the Washington Examiner. Both Maryland and Virginia increased their snow removal budgets this year, while local jurisdictions made only minor changes to their budgets.

Karyn LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the District Department of Transportation says the department estimated it spent more than $500,000 over the weekend. It treated some bridges Thursday but gave its crews Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off before returning to the effort Sunday.

"We wanted to make sure we were well-prepared and that people were able to get around," LeBlanc says. "It's a heavily traveled weekend. We knew people were going to be riding around on Sunday."

In Montgomery County, 400 people and 375 trucks were ready to go at 2 a.m. Sunday, a spokesperson says. Fourteen hours later, they went home, with only a few streets in the eastern half of the county needing any type of treatment. Arlington County had a similar experience; it had about 150 employees out over a 24-hour period.

Since both Montgomery and Arlington counties primarily spent money on labor, neither could give cost estimates immediately; they won't know for sure until after they do payroll in a few weeks. But a fake snowstorm is still cheaper than a real one.

“You have to get ready no matter what,” says Diana Sun, Arlington County's communications director. “It certainly costs less than if we actually had an event.”

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