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School superintendents share process in determining school delays and closures

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Bitter cold weather has permeated the north country, meaning school superintendents must arrive at school early to determine whether students can sleep in.

When it comes to harsh upstate winter weather, superintendents look at a wide variety of factors, such as wind chill, snowfall and ice, to determine if school is open, delayed or canceled.

“It’s the hardest part of my job, without a doubt, and I’ve been doing it for about 16 years,” said Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick.

With a wind chill warning in effect, threatening temperatures near minus 40 degrees, he is most concerned about the students who walk to school when he makes a decision around 5:30 a.m. He said he does not go by a specific temperature or certain amount of snowfall.

“A lot of it has to do with how soon it’s going to warm up,” Mr. Fralick said.

The National Weather Service wind chill warning for Jefferson and Lewis counties is in effect until 9 a.m. today. The wind chill is expected to get as low as minus 35 with northwestern winds ranging from 5 to 15 miles per hour.

St. Lawrence’s wind chill warning is in effect until 7 p.m. today. From the morning through the afternoon, the wind chill will dip anywhere from 20 to 30 degrees below zero as 10- to 15-mph winds sail through the region.

“Certainly, with the falling temperatures, it is a concern in this district,” said Potsdam Central School District Superintendent Patrick H. Brady. “It is a more difficult call than when we have icy conditions or several inches of snow in the morning.”

He said that as in Watertown, many of his students walk to school.

“If the temperatures approaches minus 30, it’s a general rule of thumb to delay or close the school,” Mr. Brady said.

Because his district’s buses are housed in a garage, he said, they will start in the morning. He said buses will pick up students no matter how cold it gets.

Indian River Central School District Superintendent James Kettrick does not have to worry about students walking to school. However, the area his district encompasses may have widely varying driving conditions. He uses a wind-chill chart provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether to close school.

The chart uses the temperature and the wind to determine how many minutes a person can stay outside before getting frostbite.

According to the chart at www.nws.noaa.gov, a person standing outside when it is zero degrees can get frostbite in 30 minutes if the wind is blowing 15 miles per hour, creating a wind chill of minus 19 degrees.

Mr. Kettrick’s workday often starts at 4:30 a.m. when winter weather advisories or warnings threaten bad weather. “We try to make a decision by 5:10 a.m. at the latest,” he said.

At South Lewis Central School, another large district, buses cover 368 square miles to get students to school.

“Typically, from 4:30 to 5 a.m., our transportation superintendent and I are talking,” said Superintendent Douglas E. Premo. “By 5:45 a.m., we usually have a decision.”

Mr. Premo subscribes to a weather advisory system that calls him as the weather worsens. As he makes his early-morning decision, he checks to see how well streets are plowed and how much more snow is predicted. He also calls other superintendents in the area to see what they have decided.

“I think we’re more concerned with road conditions and visibility at that point,” Mr. Premo said. “Obviously, student and staff safety is of foremost concern in that situation.”

School delays and closings are posted as they are reported on the Watertown Daily Times website. www.watertowndailytimes.com.

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