Impending winter storm forces schools to close early
School officials and road crews throughout Leavenworth County on Tuesday kept a close watch on radar, as the first winter storm of 2005 headed toward northeast Kansas.
For Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson, the day was spent watching and waiting. And by early afternoon, after driving area roads, he'd made a decision that schools would close at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
While Erickson would prefer to not call school off in the middle of the day, he also does not want to put children in peril. When school is cancelled mid-day, he said, elementary school personnel call parents to alert them, because school officials don't want children heading home to empty houses.
"It's difficult, because of all of the working parents," he said. "But we don't want to wait too long."
Erickson also stays in touch with other school officials in McLouth, Pleasant Ridge and Basehor-Linwood. At McLouth and Pleasant Ridge schools, for example, officials also planned an early release on Tuesday. Portions of McLouth -- including the schools -- were without power for about two hours Monday afternoon. So members of the school staff, who were working without students, worked without lights or heat, school officials said.
"Some of us that have enough light in our room are doing what little we can," Tom Pierce, MHS athletics director, said Monday.
The Tonganoxie school superintendent said he'd prefer to make a decision about calling off Wednesday classes on Tuesday night. School officials will alert Sunflower Broadband channel 6, along with Kansas City metropolitan television stations and radio stations about any school closings.
"It's touch and go," he said.
Part of the job
For Debbie Winetroub, keeping tabs on weather and road conditions is all part of her job as assistant coordinator for Leavenworth County emergency management.
About mid-morning on Tuesday, Winetroub said that a few accident reports had started to roll in.
In a conference call she had with the National Weather Service, forecasters were calling for icing Tuesday afternoon.
"And the heaviest round will be the second round, which will come after midnight," Winetroub said.
Predictions were for up to one inch of ice, followed by one inch of snow.
"The snow would likely be after midnight," she said.
And here's the good news: "They are anticipating 15 to 20 mile per hour winds with that, which will be harder on the trees and power lines," Winetroub said. "We are expecting some pretty major power outages."
Winetroub warned county residents to use extreme caution when operating heaters, citing the need for proper ventilation. And she urged residents to check their smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors in their homes and businesses -- and to forego all but necessary travel.
"Stay put, use that sick day," she said, laughing.
On the road
For county residents who have to travel, road crews were doing their part, even starting Tuesday morning.
"There are slick spots in the north end of the county," Mel Sewell, county road and bridge superintendent said about 10 a.m. Tuesday. "We haven't had any in the south end."
On Monday, road crews began work on some of the county's rock roads, in an effort to redistribute rock that had been pushed to the edge.
"They'll have a little more traction," Sewell said.
And trucks will be spreading sand and salt, wherever necessary, to combat ice. And then blading will start to handle any snow that falls.
In Tonganoxie, crews were poised on Tuesday to begin work on city streets.
"Right now, we're loaded up with all three salt and sand spreaders on all of our vehicles," Butch Rodgers, city superintendent, said late Tuesday morning. "We're loaded heavy on the salt side, compared to the sand."
Rodgers said trucks will carry a 2-1 ratio of salt-to-sand.
"We will even go to the next scenario, which would be to go straight salt," he said. "We don't like to do that. Number one, it's expensive, compared to the mixture, and it deteriorates things faster, using straight salt."
Like their counterparts in the county, the city crews also are prepared to blade any snow off streets.
"We're ready," Rodgers said. "We got ready yesterday. We thought it might to do something yesterday. We got lucky there."