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Why do we close schools/government offices whenever there’s even a hint of snow?

Matt Tomsic

Safety and logistics are priorities anytime officials decide whether to close schools and government offices during a winter storm.

“We try to weigh the forecast and look at things like driving conditions,” said Warren Lee, director of New Hanover County Emergency Management. “We don’t want to unnecessarily endanger people.”

Scott Garner, deputy director of Brunswick County Emergency Services, said logistics also impact early decisions about closings.

Southeastern North Carolina doesn’t have the resources to clear small amounts of snow, Garner said.

“Typically, we might go two or three years and not see any snow at all,” he said, adding in northern states like New York, government employees can attach snow plows to dump trucks and clear roads.

Officials are more cautious when closing public schools and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

UNCW considers National Weather Service forecasts, the timing of the storm and which employees are essential before deciding to close the university, said Cindy Lawson, spokeswoman for the university.

For instance, campus police and food service employees would be considered essential employees if a storm comes during a semester while students are on campus, Lawson said.

But safety is the biggest priority, she added.

Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties canceled classes by Sunday night.

Warren said buses pick up students early in the morning and then have to go back on the roads later to drop them at home. Those issues lead to early decisions to close schools.

“Once they get the buses on the road, they’re really in a jam at that point,” Warren said. “It’s easier for them to make that decision up front.”

Officials take “a lot of heat” for making decisions to close schools and offices before snow starts falling, Warren said.

“It’s one of those decisions that sometimes you’re going to get it right, sometimes you’re going to get wrong,” Warren said. “It’s a tough call at best.”

Related links:

When was the last time Wilmington had a white Christmas?

How did the February 2010 snowstorm compare with previous Wilmington snowfall records?

What were the warmest and coldest winters on record for Wilmington?

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5 Responses to “ Why do we close schools/government offices whenever there’s even a hint of snow?”

  1. On January 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm M S wrote:

    I have to agree that while it’s some what amusing to folks from colder areas of the country, it is better to error on the side of caution when wintry weather is in the forecast. Lets remember how poorly folks drive around here when conditions are great, so when weather conditions deteriorate it’s probably best to have as few people out on the roads as possible. Unfortunately, some times the weather is not as bad as forecasted and every one ends up staying home for what turns out to be just rain. I don’t blame them for making that call though.

  2. On January 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm T A wrote:

    Actually it’s to keep all the YANKEES who LOVE our weather from KILLING the locals. Somebody has to keep us safe!!! Wonder why the insurance rates in other parts of the country are quadruple ours……hummm…driver statistics…….the majority is based on the accidents…..hence the drivers from other areas that think everywhere one goes has to be done at 100mph even in a 40mph zone.
    IT’s for the protection of the LOCALS!!!!!

  3. On January 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm Bob Hinnant wrote:

    I am a Wilmington native that returned home after spending 25 years in New England. I think I am in a unique position that allows me to see this topic from both sides. What our new neighbors from the North must understand is that the Wilmington are does not have the resources to deal with snow and ice and that due to the infrequent need for these resources, it would not be cost effective to obtain them. It is also a fact that a large portion of the residence are not experienced driving in such conditions nor have the snow and ice removal tools to clear cars, driveways, sidewalks and steps. It is even more unusual that any snow or ice lasts for more than a few hours and even more unusual for it to last more than a day. With all this in mind, it is wise for government officials and business owners to shut it down for the generally very short amount of time that there is a need for concern. I admit, when I woke up this morning, for a moment I thought, heck, this would have gone unnoticed for the most part up in Connecticut but once I got outside and realized that a plow wasn’t forth coming and saw some local residence struggling, I quickly changed my tune. It is better to be safe than sorry. If schools and businesses are closed and we don’t get snow, maybe some revenue is lost but if they are not, we do get bad weather and even one person is injured or worse because they were out on the road, THAT is far worse. Stay home and enjoy some unexpected time with your loved ones and stay safe and warn! 😉

  4. On January 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm Janet Fitzgerald wrote:

    I would like to thank Bob Hinnant for his comments—the voice of reason. I would like to add that even in places where this sort of weather is common and folks are prepared for it, accidents related to weather and road conditions still happen. Also, no one is a good driver on ice and even four wheel drive is not the solution. I’ve seen more than one over confident driver of a four wheeler go slipping and sliding on the ice into other cars, utility poles and street signs. If you can, stay off the roads when the conditions are bad. Enjoy yourself at home. If you must go out, please slow down and drive defensively.

  5. On January 15, 2011 at 7:29 am Linda Lewis wrote:

    I would like to say THANK YOU to the powers to be who made the decision to close schools in Brunswick County.
    I have grandchildren at several of the schools and I have a daughter that teachs at one of the schools and I thank you for thinking of their safety.

    I hope you will do the same each time such a decision has to be made. Their lives and safety are dear to my heart.

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