Archive for Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Winter’s stormy blasts pummel area

December 20, 2000

Tonganoxie school students probably made a little wish on Monday hoping they could start their winter break a little early because of snow.

Last week, classes were canceled on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Because of a threat of freezing rain, classes were dismissed at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.

For Richard Erickson, Tonganoxie school superintendent, predicting weather this winter has proven to be a challenge. The main concern, he said, is ensuring the safety of the district's 1,392 students. About half of them ride buses to and from school each day.

This winter, he said, has been unusual.

"I don't recall ever calling school off as many as four times," he said.

The district is required by the state to conduct classes for 1,116 hours. Tonganoxie's calendar includes 1,167 hours. So far, snow days have eaten up about 28.5 hours.

"That leaves us with about 22 1/2 hours left, and that's equivalent to a little over three days before we run out of snow days," Erickson said. "The way this winter's going, we'll be out of snow days soon."

Erickson kept a close watch on Monday's storm, and decided not to dismiss school early. Students' winter break gets under way at noon today. Classes resume Jan. 3.

That means Erickson can take a two-week break from his recently acquired job of weather forecaster. When difficult weather is predicted, Erickson gets up at 4 a.m. or 4:30 a.m., then hits the roads. He drives for 15 to 30 minutes.

"I can get a pretty good idea at that time just how hazardous the roads are going to be," Erickson said.

He also checks in with other area superintendents and listens to the latest forecasts. He likes to make a decision between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.

He would rather not dismiss school once the day is under way, but sometimes it's unavoidable, he said.

"It takes a lot of time, and there's a number of phone calls to make to parents," Erickson said. "It's a very hectic situation. I appreciate the good work of our secretarial staff, our principals and our bus drivers."

Last Wednesday's storm meant a constant flow of customers at B&J Amoco in search of a warm drink or a tank of gasoline.

Determining who would mop the snow that melted on the floor became a running joke between manager Terry Chop and Walter Lee Denholm.

Outside, fewer vehicles than usual, considering it was rush hour, traveled down the snow-packed U.S. Highway 24-40.

Meanwhile, county patrol officers kept an eye out for motorists who might be in danger.

"We have responded to a lot of people who've gone off the road," Leavenworth County Sheriff Herb Nye said Monday morning. "As far as major accidents, we haven't had that many, thank God."

Officials at the National Weather Service reported that from Dec. 11-18, the area received .55 inches of precipitation in the form of freezing rain, and 8.6 inches of snow, which included a seven-inch snowfall last Wednesday.

Temperatures ranged from a low of 1 degree below zero on Dec. 12 to a high of 35 degrees on Dec. 15.

Friday afternoon, about 2,000 members of the Leavenworth Jefferson Electric Cooperative who live in the Tonganoxie, southern Leavenworth County and Jefferson County area went without power for about an hour and a half.

Joe Heinen, member services manager for the utility, said there was a problem with one of the substations.

"We had an equipment failure, and we had to shut it down and fix the problem," Heinen said.

In downtown Tonganoxie, one businessman, Dr. Grant Ritchey, a dentist who commutes from Olathe, said the Dec. 11 ice storm kept him at home.

"I couldn't come in," Ritchey said. "It was only the third time in 14 years that I have not come in due to snow."

Patients didn't mind missing their dental appointments that day, he said.

"About 90 percent of those we called to cancel said they were going to cancel anyway," Ritchey said.

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