CMS to dismiss classes two hours early

With accumulating snow possible Tuesday in advance of a major winter storm Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decided to release students two hours early Tuesday.

Forecasters said 1 or 2 inches of snow could fall Tuesday morning and afternoon, with another 4 to 8 inches expected Wednesday when the main part of the storm system arrives.

CMS was one of many systems in the area that dismissed early before snow arrived Jan. 28, and officials said they make such decisions on early release only after checking with a number of sources. The district announced the early-dismissal decision around 8:30 p.m. Monday.

“We consult with our transportation officials, with city officials and with road crews,” CMS Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said before the early-dismissal decision was announced. “We get as much input as possible, and then we try to make the decision quickly enough to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

At CMS, buses will run routes two hours early, and after-school activities, athletics and field trips are canceled. Lunch will be served.

Other schedule changes announced for Tuesday: Union County Schools will close three hours early, and Hickory Public Schools and Catawba County Schools will open two hours late.

Some other school systems prepared parents Monday for a possible early release Tuesday, resolving to notify parents as soon as they’d made a decision. Others said the decision to dismiss early on Tuesday would be made by early morning.

Learning from Atlanta

Hanging over the districts: the recent nationwide criticism of Atlanta over its handling of last month’s winter storm. That crippled the city because of inadequate road preparations, last-minute school cancellations and poor communication across the city.

The result was horrific for many Atlanta residents, ranging from children stuck in schools, commute times that more than quadrupled, and scores of drivers abandoning their cars on the roadways.

“The last thing we want is for students to get stuck in some sort of a predicament where they can’t get safely home,” said Dawn Creason, spokeswoman with Iredell-Statesville Schools. “We never want to get stuck, and we certainly don’t want to be Atlanta. We don’t want to repeat that.”

Ronnye Boone, spokeswoman for Cabarrus County Schools, said decisions about canceling or delaying schools are never easy. “However, we always err on the side of caution, keeping safety top of mind,” she said.

Complicating the decision for area districts, the snow could begin Tuesday in the Charlotte area, with 1 or 2 inches possible – a similar amount to last month’s storm. But the main part of the storm system, due Wednesday, could bring up to 8 inches of snow and a coating of ice to Charlotte.

Expecting heavy snow, ice

Damaging ice accumulations are possible not far to the southeast of the city, and forecasters say a major ice storm is looming for parts of South Carolina and central North Carolina.

“Charlotte could be hit with a heavy amount of both snow and ice,” said Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist with Accu-Weather, one of the nation’s leading private meteorological firms.

Boone said that Cabarrus County Schools would likely notify parents before 10 a.m. Tuesday if the district decides to dismiss early. Students would be dismissed in stages, with the first students leaving for home by mid-morning.

Dangers of ‘black ice’

Many districts said that they often look at the rural roads first because they’re the least likely to be treated before a storm or plowed after the storm.

“Black ice is the worst thing, simply because you can’t see it,” said Steve Demiter, assistant superintendent of operations for Catawba County Schools.

School officials said they planned to closely monitor weather forecasts in conjunction with personnel reports about road conditions.

The low-pressure system that is predicted to form in the Gulf of Mexico and track across Georgia and the Carolinas could produce snowfall at a rate of 1 or 2 inches an hour, according to some of the computer models. Some of those models are predicting 12-inch snowfalls in parts of North Carolina.

Lesser amounts of snow are forecast to the south and southeast of Charlotte, but those areas will be trading snow for sleet and freezing rain. The Weather Service predicts almost one-third of an inch of ice in Union, Anson, Lancaster and Chester counties. Meteorologists say a quarter inch of ice is usually the amount needed to cause widespread power outages.

Forecasters’ latest prediction is for the heavy snow to begin early Wednesday morning, change to sleet around mid-morning, then change to freezing rain for several hours in the afternoon. The precipitation then is expected to change back to sleet in the evening and snow late at night before ending sometime Thursday morning. Staff Writer Joe Marusak contributed.