A closer look at weather-related school closings

The Ngabo family walks to LINCS earlier this month: first grader Ian, Elizabeth and second grader Martha. The district has closed five times due to weather this school year as have most other schools in the area. (Tom Ganser photo)
The Ngabo family, Ian, Elizabeth and Martha, walk to LINCS in Whitewater earlier this month. The district has closed five times due to weather this school year as have most other schools in the area. (Tom Ganser photo)

District has closed school five times but winter is not over yet

By Tom Ganser


Since mid-December, there have been several times when Eric Runez, District Administrator for the Whitewater Unified School District, has probably felt a little like Hamlet as he pondered, “To cancel school, or not to cancel school, that is the question.”

During the winter, schools can be cancelled due to two typical weather conditions, dangerous wind chill or dangerous road conditions for buses and personal vehicles.

In the current school year, Runez has cancelled school attendance for students and staff five times since Dec. 20, three times due to wind chill conditions (Jan. 6, 7, 28) and twice due to road conditions (Dec. 20, Jan. 29).

When it comes to wind chill, Runez’s decision to cancel school is triggered by the issuing of “Wind Chill Warnings” by the National Weather Service (NWS), a division of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a glossary of terms, the NWS states that “The National Weather Service issues this product [wind chill warning] when the wind chill is life threatening. The criteria for this warning varies from state to state.”

The NWS also specifies that “wind chill warning [are] issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.”

The prediction for when the dangerous wind chill warning is in effect is important as well.  For example, if the warning applies just to evening hours, Runez may decide to cancel only after school activities and meetings.

Runez’s procedures for canceling school due to road conditions that might significantly impair families, students and buses from safely transporting students to and from school can be more complex than cancelling school due to a dangerous wind chill warning.

In assessing driving conditions, Runez said, “A lot of my conversation begins with Nelson Bus Service, our transportation.  Dave Nelson does a wonderful job of getting out, driving roads, checking out the conditions.”

“Dave will communicate, as I will, with the township crews and the city crews, asking when what do the roads look like as they’re out trying to take care of them,” Runez added.

Even more important for Runez is the road crews’ plans, since they are not staffed to work 24 hours a day, including “what’s the earliest they’re going to get out, what do they anticipate, how much time would they need in order to get through all the roads.”

Runez is grateful that the road crews are sensitive to the school day schedule.

“They’re been terrific,” Runez said. “They will start at four in the morning so that by six o’clock we can get buses through where we need to get buses through.  Or if we’re going to dismiss at three o’clock, they’re making a big heavy push at noon and on.  They do that all the time and they communicate a lot of that to Dave Nelson and we certainly appreciate when they do those kinds of things.”

Read the rest of what Runez had to say about the process of closing schools in the Whitewater Unified School District in the Feb. 20 issue of the Whitewater Register.

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