Weather watch starts early for district road warriors
While Groveport Madison students are still sound asleep, dreaming of a potential snow day, the winter road warriors for their school districts are driving the highways and plowing through parking lots and sidewalks to determine if the weather is bad enough to delay or cancel classes.
The district has policies in place to guide the decisions, but ultimately, Mother Nature and her fury determine whether school is in or out for the day.
During severe weather, Groveport road warriors have about eight miles north to south and six miles east to west to inspect.
The weather watch begins with monitoring digital and broadcast weather reports, and usually requires driving through the district at around 4:30 a.m. to check firsthand on the conditions.
Four municipalities are responsible for plowing snow and salting streets in the district.
"Storms frequently arrive in the middle of the night, start as rain, change to sleet or freezing rain and then to snow," said Larry Ricchi, supervisor of facilities for the Groveport Madison district. "Driving the district is absolutely required.
"There is about 25 miles of driving involved to determine if there is going to be school," he added.
The "test" for determining whether school is on or off is simple, according to Ricchi:
"If I hit the brakes hard, does the anti-lock mechanism kick in? When I come to a stop and start moving again, do my tires spin easily? If I take a corner at normal speed, does the car drift out of the curve?" he said.
Drivers for Petermann Bus, which provides transportation for about 6,000 Groveport students each day, are trained for winter driving, but Ricchi said the fact that the buses share the road with others whose drivers may not have the same skills comes into play when making school closure or delay decisions.
The fact that some students walk to school is an important factor, as well, he said.
While Ricchi is driving the roads, custodial workers at each school are clearing paths so students and staff can enter the buildings safely. Maintenance crews are also braving the unsavory weather conditions to clear school driveways and parking lots before the staff arrives.
Depending on the weather, Ricchi said these crews may work many extra hours just to make sure the walk areas do not become slippery slopes.
"Snows that occur during the school day make snow removal difficult," he said."Driven-on or walked-on snow will pack down or melt and refreeze into ice, making removal more difficult.
"A very deep snow requires many hours of plowing and does not allow us to wait until the snow stops," he added.
The road warriors are not the only ones working extra hours during extreme cold.
The head bus mechanic often goes in early to start the buses that are scheduled to leave first to make sure that they start and that snow is not covering the vehicles.
When needed, a start-up crew also comes in early to assist him and the other drivers who are getting their buses ready for their routes.
"We do start earlier when the weather calls for it - sometimes coming in as early as 3 a.m.," said, John Raiff, manager of Petermann.
"The drivers come in on staggered times due to their routes. They are 90 strong with drivers and special needs monitors," he said.
And if it takes hours to get the buses readied, the paths and parking lots cleared, and the streets monitored, the road warriors continue to work until the job is done, he said.