Cold temperatures and low visibility cause many cancellations on Wednesday

Very cold temperatures in the area caused area schools to cancel classes on Tuesday and kept most Manistee County residents from venturing outside. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — The frigid winter weather with sub zero wind chill temperatures that hit Manistee County on Tuesday brought about a series of school cancellations and concerns for the safety of the elderly.

Manistee County Emergency Management Coordinator Lt. Ken Falk of the Manistee County Sheriff’s Department said that people need to plan ahead when it comes to situations like the one that hit Manistee County this week. Planning is an important component to that process, including making a simple trip in winter storm weather.

Making sure to take enough warm clothing is important in the event of a car getting stuck on a rural road in sub-zero temperatures according to the emergency management coordinator. Falk said it doesn’t take long for a situation like that to turn serious in this type of weather.

“Have a plan as that is important,” said Falk. “Even if you are going somewhere not too far let someone know where you are going and what time you plan to get there. It doesn’t take long to get frostbite in weather like this with the wind chill.”

Part of that planning process is to make sure there are enough non-perishable foods that people have in their homes, so when bad weather hits, they don’t have to go out on unnecessary trips. He said other things they need to remember is to have a kit in the event of the loss of power.

“Make sure you have a storm kit, and for some people that can mean making sure to have enough drinking water or a back-up generator to run the necessary things in a house,” said Falk. “If you lose power and go to live with a friend or relative make sure you can winterize your house against pipes breaking because it is so cold. That is why people need to think about those things and get a plan together before bad weather hits the area.”

“I just had a call the other day from a guy in an electric wheelchair whose car broke down in Mason County and there was no way to transport him because he is in an electronic wheelchair,” said Falk. “I told him did you have a plan? I told him the different things he could have done, and he should have had plan. If it is four degrees, and you are stuck on the side of the road in an electric wheelchair it can be a big problem.”

He said that people also need to check where emergency shelters are located prior to that time if they need to leave their home for some reason due to the storm.

The emergency management coordinator pointed out that people should limit their travel to only necessary trips in very poor weather, and that many things can wait until another day.

“If it isn’t an emergency, then the doctor or dentist can be rescheduled to another day,” said Falk.

Falk said school officials showed good restraint on Tuesday, calling off classes throughout the county due to the cold weather.

“It was too cold to stand out in the cold waiting for the bus and parents need to make sure their child is dressed properly for the weather,” said Falk. “People should also check on the elderly to see if they are OK, or if they need anything.”

School officials made the decision early to cancel classes on Monday evening and early Tuesday after viewing the weather conditions. Onekama superintendent Kevin Hughes said it was a combination of different weather conditions that made him decide to cancel classes.

“It was compounded by the cold and the blowing and drifting snow,” said Hughes. “I went to a basketball game at KND last night (Monday) and the snow was blowing so hard that I was going 35 miles per hour coming home. We don’t usually call school off because of the cold, but there was also blowing snow.”

Hughes said that the district also has a policy for the elementary students that when temperatures dip so low they don’t allow them to go out for recess. That was the case on Monday when temperatures dipped below zero on the wind chill.

“We have a certain chill factor where we do indoor recess versus out,” said Hughes. “Hopefully, it looks like the week is going to get a little better as the week goes on.”

The Onekama superintendent pointed out that weather forecasts this time of the year can sometimes be unpredictable and said this area received a little more snow than originally predicted.

“We got more snow than what we thought and this is the second time I am having the school parking lot plowed as it filled up again,” Hughes said Tuesday morning.

Bear Lake/Kaleva Norman Dickson superintendent Mike Matesich said the cold weather also played a role in his decision.

“Both districts have some students that are walkers and of course that is a concern,” said Matesich. “Even though most of our bus pick-ups are house-to-house we still didn’t want anyone standing outside for too long. Above all that, being as cold as it is, and the snow so fine that visibility becomes an issue with the wind.

“I could probably speak for all superintendents in that we would rather be conservative on a day like this than take a chance of someone having an injury of some kind from the frostbite or from something else.”

Matesich said they watch the temperatures very closely on cold days even when they are in session.

“We have policies where when the temperature reaches a certain number we don’t go out for recess and both districts have two gyms that they use for the little guys so they do get exercise,” said Matesich. “It looks like tomorrow could be better if you call 17 degrees better.”

Manistee Area Public Schools Superintendent John Chandler has the largest walking student population in the county and he said the frigid temperatures played a very big role in the cancellation.

“That was the reason we closed down,” said Chandler. “We have a lot of students that walk, but just standing out doesn’t take long to occur and I saw one wind chill as low as -26 degrees. In those temperatures, we don’t want them standing out even for a few minutes in waiting for the bus.”

Chandler said that what he generally looks for is when the wind chill gets in the -20 range, they are definitely looking at closing school. He said if it is sustained at that those levels that is when they consider closing the school.

Manistee County Road Commission manager Jerry Peterson said the very cold weather hampers his crews because salt will not melt snow and ice at that temperature.

“We kind of restrict and don’t put a whole lot of salt and sand as it doesn’t do much good,” said Peterson. “It is just kind of intersections and hills that you touch up with a little sand and salt until the temps come up. When we use the sugar beet juice mixed in, we can go down to about five degrees or so, but even when it is zero and -20 on the roads, nothing is going to cut it and you could just keep dumping salt and that would make black ice.”

Peterson said people just need to slow down a little over the next several days until temperatures warm up where the salt will take hold again.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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