Road safety main factor in snow days

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

It is not often that Mother Nature wreaks havoc — in the form of snow and ice — on eastern New Mexico. But when and if she does, Clovis Municipal Schools will be prepared, according to school officials.

Whether or not to bestow its approximate 8,000 students with a snow day or a delay ultimately falls on the shoulders the Clovis Municipal Schools superintendent. Thankfully, she has a wing of experts and age old procedures to guide her.

In the case of inclement weather, a group of school administrators and transportation employees assess roads conditions, typically in the wee hours of the morning, said Director of Federal Programs and Community Relations David Briseno. The group travels county and city roads, most often at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, before recommending a delay or closure to the superintendent, Briseno said.

“It’s all about safety — if the roads are passable; if buses can navigate those roads,” Briseno said.

A decision on whether or not to cancel or delay school must be made by 5:30 a.m. in order for it to be aired on local radio stations and TV channels by 6 a.m., Briseno said. Cannon Air Force Base weather experts are often called to classify days suited for delays, rather than cancellation. If inclement conditions are expected to ease later in the morning, school officials can impose a one or two hour delay on the start of the school day. Last year, school administrators declared two delays and one snow day, Briseno said.

Clovis Community College officials said they adhere to inclement weather decisions made by Clovis Municipal Schools administration. If the classes there are delayed or canceled, they also will be at the college, said CCC Public Relations Officer Afatia Teofilo.

Despite recent frigid weather, this winter is expected to be warmer than average in New Mexico, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Bilodeau of Amarillo. He said precipitation levels should not reach above average. The Curry County region normally sees about 13 inches of snow, ranging from 1 to 4 inches per snowfall, Bilodeau said.

“But these (snowfalls) are few and far between,” Bilodeau said, quickly noting New Mexico’s celebrated short winter season. It generally lasts from mid-November to late March, with the possibility of snowfall into April, Bilodeau said.

Nonetheless, there are already two calendar days — May 24-25 — set aside to accommodate for snow days, Briseno said.

In rare cases, inclement weather may cause early school dismissals. That decision is generally made by 11:30 a.m. on the day inclement weather sets in, according to Briseno.

Cory Adair, manager of Adair Transportation, Clovis school’s transportation provider, said the company prefers to err on the side of caution. Often, he added, his employees need to be more vigilant of other drivers than of falling flakes and slippery roads.

“Typically, I like to promote a delay to let the roads thaw out, so my employees don’t have to watch out for everyone else,” Adair said.

He said on snowy and icy days, if school isn’t delayed or canceled, students and parents should just be patient, as traffic is slowed by the weather.

“Come by the bus stop, bundle up, and be patient. We will be by to get you,” Adair said.

Bus service to unpaved, rural roads is sometimes canceled even if routes on paved roads proceed as scheduled, school officials said. Rural residents are then excused from attending class, Briseno said.

• For a complete explanation of Clovis Municipal Schools inclement weather procedures, visit http://www.cms.k12.nm.us/BUSINESS/weather_procedure.html
• School cancellations and delays are broadcast on TV channels KOBR, KRQE, and KAMR, as well as on local radio stations
• Delays are gauged according to regular school starts: If school starts at 8:15 a.m. and there is a two-hour delay, school will begin at 10:15 a.m.