Wintry mix forces closure of schools, other public services

The intersection at Maple and North State streets in Big Rapids is pictured Monday afternoon. The Mecosta County area was hit with a winter weather advisory, causing school closures, but few accidents. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

MECOSTA COUNTY — Inclement weather forced schools to cancel classes and public transportation services to close down Monday, as an early morning snowfall turned to a frigid rain that pummeled the Mecosta County area all morning and afternoon.

More bad news: According a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, it’s supposed to stay wet and cold on Tuesday, with more precipitation, and a decline in the high temperature.
But, a sliver of hope: Local drivers may finally be acclimating to the poor road conditions Mother Nature has caused for the past couple months.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate today. I think we’ve had one minor accident so far,” Mecosta County Sheriff Todd Purcell said Monday afternoon. “Honestly, I think people realize this is not the first snow of the year, so they don’t drive extremely fast and crash their cars. They’re learning we live in northern Michigan and we get snow and bad road conditions.”

Meteorologist Heather Orow, with the National Weather Service’s Grand Rapids office, said Mecosta County went under a winter weather advisory Monday morning, due to rain, sleet and snow. Some areas in the county received an inch of snow and additional ice accumulations.

Wind gusts, which climbed as high as 35 mph in some parts of Michigan on Monday, generally stayed in the mid-teens locally. The high temperature topped out at 41 degrees.

That was a dangerous enough forecast to cancel classes on Monday at most Mecosta County schools; including Big Rapids, Morley Stanwood, Crossroads Charter Academy and Chippewa Hills. Other public services, such as the Mecosta County Commission on Aging and Activity Center and the Mecosta-Osceola Transit Authority, had a snow day as well.

Chippewa Hills Superintendent Bob Grover said the roads were too dangerous for classes to go on as planned.

“Especially on the back roads — it started sleeting. There wasn’t much snow, but I don’t care as much about snow as I care about ice. I’m looking at the radar, thinking, if this moves in, we’re going to be having problems,” Grover said. “I’m not thinking as much about buses as I’m thinking about kids driving to school. You get a 17-year-old driving on an icy road, it could get really bad. I’m sorry, that becomes a priority.”

Due to the amount of class time students are required to be in school during a given year, districts are generally allotted six snow days per year, Grover said. If they go over that total, superintendents have to either add a school day to the calendar or ask the state department of education for a waiver, granting a district three additional snow days for a year.

Monday’s snow day drives Chippewa Hills’ total to four this year, Grover said, which is generally higher than normal for this time of year. However, the superintendent said he “never” thinks about the possibility of adding days to the calendar when trying to decide whether or not to call a snow day.

“I’ll deal with the end when I come to the end. Right now, I’m dealing with safety of kids. Adding days is not even a consideration,” Grover said.

As of Monday afternoon, no area school districts had announced closures for Tuesday.

Expect more of the same bad weather in the week, Orow said. The Tuesday morning forecast calls for light rain turning to snow by the afternoon. The high temperature should dip down to 37 degrees, but snow shouldn’t accumulate more than a half-inch. Winds are expected to remain in the teens.

According to Purcell, that’s not a terrible forecast for local drivers. Because of the salt mixture used by the Mecosta County Road Commission, he said, road conditions usually only turn really bad when the thermometer reads less than 15 degrees. A lack of high-speed wind means blowing snow won’t be an issue.

But that doesn’t mean drivers should pretend it’s June, either, he said.

“The most important suggestion is to slow down and add a little more time to your travel plans — get up earlier, do what you have to do so you can take it slow on the roads, because excessive speed is the cause of a lot of crashes this time of year,” Purcell said.

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