The first day of May was the last school day that area superintendents had to deal with snowfall causing delays and cancellations.
A Free Press headline said it all: “Upper Midwest schoolchildren get rare May snow day.” Believe it or not, that last gasp of a brutally elongated winter was six months ago (despite feeling more like five minutes ago).
That’s why area school leaders are feeling like the first winter-weather watch of the season today is coming awfully early. From about 4 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Wednesday, southern Minnesota could get up to 4 inches of the sticky white stuff.
“It generally does seem early,” said St. Peter Public Schools Supt. Jeff Olson, who pointed out that September and October have been the only full school months of 2013 when he hasn’t had to think about weather-related school delays and closures.
“I feel like it just hasn’t left us that long,” said Mankato Area Public Schools Supt. Sheri Allen.
To add insult to injury, the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a repeat of last year: cold and especially snowy. An article on farmersalmanac.com states with fervor, “The ‘Days of Shivery’ are back! … With a combination of below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation, the stage will be set for the Midwest, Great Lakes and Central and Northern New England to receive lots of snow.”
But Olson and several other superintendents said they don’t use the Farmer’s Almanac when predicting what the weather will do to their school calendars. They deal with the weather as it comes and pay attention to sinister-sounding weather reports as they pop up throughout the season.
“These days, with alerts on your phone, you know the minute there’s any weather,” said Maple River Public Schools Supt. Dan Anderson.
Olson and Anderson said they’ve got two days built into the school calendar for possible snow days every year, and last year that was not sufficient.
“No, it wasn’t,” Olson said with a laugh. “We had three makeup days.”
So what does this mean in terms of notice for school delays? Every district has its own protocol, but almost all school delays or cancellations will be determined the morning of school.
In St. Peter, for example, during the pre-dawn hours of a very snowy school morning, Olson talks with the district’s bus companies about road conditions, and he speaks with superintendents of neighboring districts to see if everyone’s on the same page as to whether delaying or canceling school is necessary.
“I go out and drive the roads as well,” Olson said of those early mornings. “If we’re going to start late or close for the day, we make the call between a quarter to 6 and 6 in the morning.”
Allen said she too starts gathering information as early as possible, reviewing online weather dashboards, consulting district bus companies, checking on city and county road conditions, and asking neighboring school districts’ superintendents, “What’s coming your way and is it there yet?”
“It’s a lot of networking,” Allen said.
Olson, Allen and Anderson aren’t ready to make predictions about whether tonight’s snow will cause delays Wednesday. Given the above-freezing daytime temperatures and the warm ground, the snow tends to melt quickly. Either way, they’ll all be up early Wednesday just in case.
“We’ll definitely be up at 5 in the morning checking the situation,” Olson said.
In the meantime, the weather watch is coinciding with an annual event that is being made even more timely: Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Winter Hazard Awareness Week. Area law enforcement officers began on Monday their annual third-grade presentations in Blue Earth County schools to promote winter-weather safety information to about 900 students through Nov. 22.
Included in the presentations are lessons on staying clear of snowplows and winter-survival information.
Snow won't stay long The National Weather Service says southern Minnesota will have highs in the low 40s today and a chance of rain in the afternoon. As the temps drop, the rain will change to snow and a Winter Weather Watch will be in effect 4 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Wednesday for the following counties in the area: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan. While the band of snow is narrow, about 2 to 4 inches could fall. Highs of 37 Wednesday and in the 40s Thursday and Friday will likely melt any fallen snow.