How the County Determines Operational Status in Inclement Weather

Loudoun County often receives questions about how decisions are made regarding the status of its operations during and following inclement weather, such as a heavy snowfall. This webpage explains how the decision is made and the types of information that are considered by Loudoun County Government.

Who Makes the Call?

When inclement weather impacts our community:

  • Decisions regarding Loudoun County Government’s operational status are made by the County Administrator.
  • Decisions regarding the operational status of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) are made by the Superintendent (view more inclement weather information from LCPS). 
  • Decisions regarding the operations and schedules of the respective courts are made by judges; however, their decisions often align with the County Administrator’s determination.

The County Administrator makes a decision regarding operational status as early as 4:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. Making decisions about the county’s operational status the evening prior to a business day, as LCPS often does, is atypical. This is because the factors that determine the operational status of the county government differ from those factors that LCPS uses. The County Administrator relies on the latest information available regarding the forecast and importantly, the condition of county facilities, which must allow for parking and safe access by the public and employees to the government facilities. 

What Factors are Considered When Determining the County’s Operational Status?

The County Administrator understands that decisions regarding the government’s operational status may not be optimal for each member of our community and for each county employee. Decisions regarding the county government’s operational status are also focused on the facilities that the county operates and the circumstances under which county employees report to work. While other organizations may decide to align their operational status to the county’s status, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement to do so. The county government operational status is a broad-based determination. Individual employee circumstances may differ broadly, and so county policies allow for employees to make individual decisions with the approval of their departments’ management. Regarding the county's operational status, the County Administrator weighs a wide range of information to make the best overall decision possible. These factors include:

  • Safety and Roads: The safety of county employees and the community is the primary concern when determining the operational status of the county government. The County Administrator considers whether primary and secondary roads are generally safe to traverse. Only Loudoun County road conditions are considered. When the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) reports roads to be in "moderate" condition, for example, it is important to note that while all roads may not be clear of snow, driving is considered generally safe as long as drivers are taking the necessary precautions, such as driving at appropriate speeds for existing road conditions. The County Administrator understands that some employees may not feel safe driving on days when we experience inclement weather. Because road conditions in neighborhoods may vary widely across the county, employees must ultimately determine whether it is safe for them to drive. Employees should consult their supervisors when hyperlocal conditions impact an employee’s personal decision regarding driving on days the county is open. Information about the conditions of roads in Loudoun County is available online from VDOT's Virginia 511
  • Condition of County Facilities: One of the key factors in determining the county government’s operational status is the condition of county facilities, and our employees’ ability to open facilities to serve the public. Our snow-removal crews play a vital role in clearing sidewalks and parking lots at county facilities; but sometimes there is not enough time to clear snow by the time facilities are scheduled to open or snow is falling faster than it can be cleared. The County Administrator also consults with county leadership for information about the readiness of facilities, which includes access to facilities by clear pathways and whether minimum staffing levels are available to open facilities. In addition, as stated above, the road conditions reported by VDOT are as compelling a factor as the condition of our facilities.
  • Essential Services:  Loudoun County Government provides many essential services to the public. While public safety agencies and other essential 24/7 operations, such at the county's group homes, must operate every day regardless of the weather conditions, keeping other government services open to the public also is important. The individuals, families and businesses that make up Loudoun are best served when the county government is open and able to provide the essential services on which the community relies; therefore, whenever possible the County Administrator strives to keep the government open. Closures of the county government are costly, too. Because as many as 2/3 of the county’s workforce are designated as “essential” employees—requiring them to work regardless of the operational status—closing the county means essential employees receive “closure pay,” which amounts to a higher hourly rate. Combined with other factors, such as lost productivity, the cost to “close” the county government can reach or exceed $500,000 per day. 
  • Weather Forecast:  Loudoun County alone is approximately 520 square miles and includes two National Weather Service zones. As a result, weather conditions may vary significantly from the western end of the county to the eastern side, or even from south to north. The Loudoun County Government has approximately 5,000 employees and over 100 individual facilities. Sometimes individual facilities, or a group of facilities, will close due to weather conditions in that particular area of the county, yet the balance of the county facilities will remain open. Due to the nature of county operations, a decision for closure typically occurs between the end of the prior business day and 4:00 a.m. the next day. Unless the weather event is physically occurring up to and at 4:00 a.m., the decision can be difficult to make, in part, because forecasts may turn out to be inaccurate. The County Administrator and the county’s Office of Emergency Management work diligently to monitor forecasts any time weather conditions may impact the county’s operational status to make the best decision possible based on the information available.

Understanding the County’s Status

Changes to the county’s operational status are published broadly through various communication channels including the county’s website, text/email alert system, employee inclement weather phone line, and the county's official Facebook and Twitter. Typically, when there is no change to the county's operational status, that is the county is open and operating normally, notifications will not be made. 

The county has three basic types of operational status:

  • Open: the county is open and operating normally. 
  • Open; Employees Granted Unscheduled Leave: the county is open, but employees have been granted unscheduled leave (employees who staff essential 24-hour county operations and other essential services must work as scheduled). 
  • Closed: Loudoun County Government is closed; therefore employees do not report to work (employees who staff essential 24-hour county operations and other essential services must work as scheduled).

Why Open with Unscheduled Leave Instead of Close?

Regarding a status of Open; Employees Granted Unscheduled Leave, the following provide additional clarification:

  •  Like most other local governments in our region, Loudoun County sometimes opens with unscheduled leave, referred to as “liberal leave” in some jurisdictions. On days the county is open with unscheduled leave, about 1/3 of the county’s workforce—those who are not designated as “essential” employees—has the option to stay home from work and use their leave without seeking prior approval from their supervisors; however, employees should notify their supervisors when they intend to use unscheduled leave. Departmental and county policies also make it possible for eligible employees to work from home under these circumstances. 
  • Often, it is not possible to make a single decision that is ideal for all employees, in part, because the road conditions in one neighborhood may vary significantly from the conditions in another neighborhood. Therefore, based on the factors discussed above, when the County Administrator determines the county can open but understands that not all employees may be able to make it to work, he will grant "non-essential" employees unscheduled leave. Unscheduled leave empowers employees to make individual decisions about whether they can travel safely to work based on their individual circumstances, which may include considerations for child care and their neighborhood road conditions. If an employee is unable to drive to work or does not believe it is safe to travel to work, he or she may elect to use their leave and stay home. 

Employee Preparedness

Employees and their families are encouraged to have plans in place when inclement weather impacts school operations, child care, and their work. Employees should communicate in advance with their direct supervisors regarding concerns about travel during inclement weather, particularly when the employee lives outside of the county. Departmental leadership may implement individual arrangements with employees based on their specific situations. While departments cannot authorize special leave or closure leave; they can and do allow employees to take vacation and personal leave, or to telework, when appropriate. Learn more about individual and family preparedness

Why Do Other Governmental Entities Make Different Calls?

Decisions regarding Loudoun County Government’s operational status are made independently. Changes in the operational status at Loudoun County Public Schools, other local governments, or the federal government, are not factored into Loudoun’s decision, which has to be based on the sometimes unique circumstances within Loudoun County. As a result, the operational choices of various governments, transit, nonprofit and private sector organizations may vary. The following are some important reasons for the differences:

  • Public Transportation:  Many of the government closures east of Loudoun County are at least partially predicated on public transportation. The decision by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), for example, is almost exclusively tied to the level of bus and rail service provided by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and can be heavily influenced by regional impacts. For example, a federal government closure can be triggered by a weather event primarily impacting suburban Maryland and eastern Washington, D.C. without impacting northern Virginia. Because the vast majority of Loudoun County employees arrive at their workplaces by private vehicle, the county is often able to open regardless of impacts to WMATA operations as long as VDOT is reporting that primary and secondary roads are in moderate or better condition; unscheduled leave is granted when individual circumstances may keep employees from getting out of their neighborhoods.
  • LCPS Student Transportation:  Loudoun County Public Schools considers school bus operations and bus stop and sidewalk conditions as primary factors in determining its operational status. If students cannot safely access bus stops or walk to school, LCPS may close. Similarly, if school buses cannot traverse all of the county’s roadways, including those serving students in rural, western communities, LCPS may close. These factors do not affect Loudoun County Government’s ability to operate. 
  • Local Weather Conditions:  Conditions across the Metropolitan Washington Region following a snowfall may vary widely. Even within Loudoun County, which has two National Weather Service zones, conditions can be quite different. In addition, the challenges for snow removal in urban areas of Arlington and Washington, D.C. differ from the suburban and rural communities in Loudoun. These differences often account for variances in the operational status among local governments. 

The County Administrator is fully aware that decisions regarding the county's operational status reach beyond county employees. While many organizations located in Loudoun consider the county’s operational status in determining their own status, Loudoun County Government’s operational status is independent—made solely for county facilities and the circumstances under which county employees report to work to serve the community. No regulations require any non-county entity to follow the county’s operational status. It is impractical for the conditions of non-county facilities to be factored into the decision regarding the county’s operational status; therefore, non-county employees should learn about their organizations’ inclement weather policies from their employers. 

Weekend Changes in the Operational Status of Facilities

Most county administrative offices are closed on weekends. Typically, only the libraries, recreation and community centers and the county’s animal shelter are open to the public on weekends. As a result, when Loudoun County experiences inclement weather on weekends, individual decisions regarding the operation of those government facilities are made on a case-by-case basis. Weekend facility closures only pertain to those public facilities that are normally open on weekends. During these circumstances, all public safety facilities and the county’s other 24/7 facilities, such as group homes, continue to operate normally. Therefore, the county government’s status may remain as “open” even when some facilities are closed on the weekends due to inclement weather. 

Related Resources

Updated January 15, 2019