The Virginia Department of Transportation has spent nearly $70 million more than it budgeted for snow removal this winter even though there was far less snow than last year, when the department had to shell out more than $250 million to deal with back-to-back blizzards.

The state had budgeted $97.1 million for de-icing and snow removal so far this year -- $3.4 million more than last year -- but still ended up spending more than $165 million through February.

Last year, when the D.C. area and much of the Eastern seaboard were smacked by record snowfalls, the state spent about $173 million more than it budgeted, forcing Virginia to dip into reserve funds to help make up the difference.

In February 2010 alone, for example, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport recorded more than 30 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. In February 2011, though, the snow totaled less than an inch.

Last year, VDOT was simply caught off-guard by the heavy snows. This year, the problem was that the department spent heavily in anticipation of major snowstorms that never materialized, said VDOT spokesman Joe Vagi.

"There were a lot of events that weren't really big snow events," he said. "However, there's been a lot of cases where there's been snow predicted and we've mobilized crews as a result," sometimes in the middle of the night.

That's not to say the area has been immune from snow this winter season. A massive storm in late January rocked the region just as D.C.-area workers were trying to make it home, stranding hundreds of cars along roads and highways in Virginia.

As it did last year, the state will adjust its maintenance program and budget to make up the difference. That means possibly delaying nonsafety-related work such as mowing, branch removal and tree-trimming, Vagi said.

Last year, the state actually had to dip into reserve maintenance funds as well, but Vagi declined to speculate whether it would have to do the same this year.