When inclement weather hits Gahanna, city and school officials follow specific protocols, with safety being the top consideration.

Dec. 21 marks the first official day of winter, although some snow flurries already have been seen this month.

Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Steve Barrett said the district tries to gather all available information in an attempt to make a prudent decision as to whether it's safe to have buses and student drivers on the road, and if conditions are safe for students who walk.

"We get up at 4:15 a.m. on a morning when we expect inclement weather and check the roads," he said.

Barrett said he discusses conditions with business director Scott Lofton, who is in communication with the city staff.

The decision to remain open, close or delay is made after also talking to the district's transportation supervisor, school principals and officials with other school districts.

In the event of snow and ice, Barrett said he considers if the roads are safe to drive, if students can walk to their school or their bus stops safely, and temperature and wind-chill factors, using the National Weather Service wind-chill chart as a guide for exposure time.

"There's no magic number, but if it's dangerous, we will close," Barrett said. "We consider not all kids have gloves or may have forgotten them at school.

"We also consider our building temperatures to make sure kids can be warm, safe and dry," he said.

Barrett said the district also wants to make sure the conditions of parking lots are safe for the staff.

"I think the biggest challenge is ice," he said. "Sometimes for that, we'll do a two-hour delay, hoping ice will melt. We look at the National Weather Service and some apps to figure out if conditions will improve on a given day."

Barrett said the important window is between 4 and 6 a.m.

"We're going to make the call no later than 5:15 a.m. or 5:30 a.m.," he said. "We want to give parents time to make necessary arrangements for kids."

Barrett said the district considers student safety first and foremost.

On a questionable weather day, Lofton said, he usually gets out on roadways about 4 or 4:30 a.m. to see what conditions are like.

"I live toward Blacklick, so I check that area," he said. "We'll go to the west side and east side.

"As the superintendent said, we talk on a regular basis. We're not that big but sometimes one side will get ice and the other snow," he said.

Barrett said officials analyze weather reports and updates from Gahanna police, and also will check the weather to see if it will warm up later in the day.

On days the district decides to close, parents and students will be notified through the email messenger system, as well as through a post on the district website and social media channels.

Central Ohio television stations will be notified, as will The Columbus Dispatch and multiple radio stations.

City street conditions

Rob Priestas, the city's director of service and engineering, said the city's snow-removal policy places every street into one of four categories based on the street's usage, access and safety.

The category determines the priority of when and how streets are treated and cleared.

The four categories include: arterial (main streets), collector (streets that lead to arterials), residential (neighborhood streets) and courts.

Arterial streets are plowed first. After all arterial streets are cleared, snow plows then work on the collector streets, Priestas said.

Following collector streets are residential streets with steep slopes, regular residential streets and courts.

He said some snowfalls make clearing more difficult, depending upon when it snows and for how long.

Snowfalls that begin in the early morning or during evening hours can have the snow plows clearing streets during rush hour, which slows the process.

When storms continue for a number of hours, Priestas said, it can require clearing streets more than once, which can keep trucks on arterials and collector streets longer than desired.

He said the overall goal is to clear roadways with higher volumes of traffic first, because they ultimately affect the largest number of motorists, and then work on lower-volume roadways as the conditions on the arterial and collector roadways improve and stabilize.

"Our crews work very hard and take great pride in providing effective snow-ice clearing and treatment of our roadways to help keep them clear and safe for motorists," Priestas said.