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.”
Date posted: January 10, 2011