Recording-breaking snowfall, dubbed “Snowmaggedon,” in the mid-Atlantic region halted school bus operations this week, but there’s much work to be done for schools to resume next week.
In Maryland, state pupil transportation director Leon Langley said that “pretty much every school system in the state shut down for the week. It’s unprecedented.”
Langley said Friday that roads in the Baltimore area “were fine today if you stayed on the main roads.” But with around three to four feet of snow having come down in some areas in two storms over the past week, clearing off the school buses and the lots is a monumental task.
Langley said he tells people to think about digging out their car, then imagine digging out a bus — and a whole bus yard.
Many Maryland school districts have contractors providing a large proportion of their transportation service, Langley said, “So you need to make sure that your contractors are digging out and that they’ll be ready to roll on Tuesday.”
At Rockville’s Montgomery County Public Schools, which has its own fleet of more than 1,200 buses, the decision was made by Tuesday that schools would be closed the whole week. Superintendent Jerry Weast said in a press release, “It does not seem possible that we will be able to clear the roads, parking lots and sidewalks in time to resume school this week.”
Weast said the district was hopeful to be ready to reopen next Tuesday, and he asked that residents “make sure their sidewalks are cleared as quickly as possible so that when school does resume, our walkers will have a safe passage to school and our riders will have a safe place to wait for the school bus.”
At Cecil County Public Schools in Elkton, Md., Transportation Supervisor Bob Markwardt said that the weather was so intense earlier this week that even school offices were closed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Although the transportation office was open Friday, Markwardt said things have been pretty quiet since the buses have not been running. The conditions on the roads are creating the biggest challenges for residents.
“The roads are a mess — you can’t get in and out of developments, and some roads are down to one lane,” Markwardt said. “Out of these two storms, we’ve gotten something like 50 inches of snow, and the East Coast doesn’t have the snow removal equipment necessary to handle it because it normally doesn’t snow like this.”
Unfortunately, next week’s weather forecast promises to bring more of the same. “Right now they’re talking about snow showers of 6 to 10 inches for Monday evening, which means schools will probably be closed Tuesday and Wednesday,” Markwardt said.
Ready to return
Over in West Virginia, Charles Town’s Jefferson County Schools has been closed since last Friday, but computer operator Larry Willingham was in the transportation office this Friday, updating computers before staff members return next week.
“Everybody’s anxious to come back to work,” Willingham said. The district will be evaluating weather and road conditions Sunday to determine if schools will reopen Monday.
The district’s school buses are ready, if that should be the case. “We’ve had front-end loaders in here to clear off the lot,” Willingham says. “All of our buses are free right now — knock on wood.”
In Delaware, state pupil transportation director Ron Love said that most schools were closed all week. “I’m from Ohio, and this is worse than anything I saw there,” he said of the week’s storms. “It’s taken everything just to get the roads cleared.”
Love said he had to try three different routes Friday morning before he was successful in getting to his office at the Department of Education in Dover.
As snow continues to pile up, Love said that the challenge becomes where to put it. News reports from the mid-Atlantic region told of snow being hauled to parks, parking lots, a construction site and even tidal water bodies, such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Baltimore officials reportedly ordered a snow-melting machine from Ohio.
In Connecticut, Brad Cohen, vice president of B and B Transportation in Bethany, said that their area hadn’t been hit quite as hard by the storms. They’ve gotten about 8 inches of snow in the last week, with a total of about 12 inches overall since the storms began.
Nevertheless, Cohen said the weather caused every school district that the contractor serves to close on Wednesday, and on Thursday every district had delays.
“It’s been hectic,” Cohen said, “but we’ve really been on top of our game. Yesterday morning was icy when the drivers went out, so we’re making sure that we’re checking the fluids in the buses and their tires so that when they go out, there are no problems. We’re also reviewing a few extra safety measures with our drivers as far as, when they go out, watch for snow banks and things along those lines.”