Local schools expect a rough week of frigid weather

Brandon Paykamian • Jan 28, 2019 at 6:22 PM

With temperatures plunging and snow expected, the National Weather Service has advised drivers only to travel for emergencies in the coming days.

As of Monday, frigid wind chills were expected Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. From Wednesday night through Thursday morning, meteorologists projected wind chills of minus 5 degrees to minus 15 degrees across the higher elevations and  5 degrees to minus 5 degrees in lower elevations. The rough cold spell could last until Friday. 

When local school systems decide whether to close or delay schools for the weather, it is often on a day-by-day basis, as school officials closely monitor the weather conditions in their districts. 

Unicoi County Schools Director John English said it’s best to be on the side of caution — especially in mountainous areas throughout Unicoi County. While he said the forecast “doesn’t always play out,” his systems will be closed on Tuesday and he expects it will be on Wednesday.

“There’s a good chance we’ll be closed Wednesday as well if the forecast comes to fruition,” he said Monday, before the decision to close on Tuesday was announced. “We’re looking at the forecast today, and based on what we’re seeing now, there’s a good chance there’s going to be closings.”

Aside from the poor driving conditions that come with snow — which are particularly dangerous for inexperienced drivers in high school — school officials must also consider the wind chill as the Arctic blast moves into the region.

“Sometimes the town will be fine, but in the mountains, it’s a different situation,” English said of road conditions during snowy forecasts. “And when you start getting into the teens and zero wind chills, that’s a whole different type of cold. We certainly don’t want to expose students waiting for bus stops and walking to school in that weather.”

Washington County Schools Director Bill Flanary said the wind chill will be a factor in deciding this week’s school schedule.

“We have to be as mindful of wind chill as we do of hazardous road conditions. We are often faced with the potential of closing schools due to frigid temperatures, even if the roads are dry,” Flanary said Monday morning before the district closed schools for Tuesday. 

Elizabethton-Carter County EMA Director Gary Smith said temperatures were expected to plunge in the early morning hours Tuesday. Travel could be hazardous in the coming days as well, due to the chance of freezing precipitation. Elizabethton City Schools were set to be closed Tuesday, and closures were likely later this week. 

“Based on the forecast, there is a possibility we will be closed,” Elizabethton City Schools Director Corey Gardenhour said Monday morning. 

Carter County Schools officials were expecting closures based on the forecast, as well. 

“Doesn’t look good from the info I’m getting from the Morristown NOAA report,” Director Kevin Ward said. “We’ll just play it day by day and make those decisions.” Later in the day, he made the decision to close schools on Tuesday. 

Johnson City Schools spokesman Collin Brooks said Monday their officials will be in “constant contact” with the National Weather Service and city transit officials to gauge whether to delay or close schools entirely during snowy and frigid weather. Once all of that is determined, Superintendent Steve Barnett makes the final decision. 

“Because some of Johnson City Schools open doors as early as 7 a.m., school buses begin picking up students at 6:25 a.m. Occasionally, weather conditions worsen quickly thus requiring a later decision,” Brooks said. “Parents need to be aware of this possibility and plan accordingly.”

“The safety of students, staff and parents remain the top primary consideration.”