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Snow removal problems shut schools again

February 15, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Several inches of snow covered with a thick layer of ice caused road-clearing efforts in Washington County on Wednesday to take longer than usual.

"The snow is heavy," said Ed Plank, director of the county's highway department. "And we can't push it very well. It takes us a lot longer."

To bear that out, an announced two-hour school delay was changed to a school closing shortly after 7 a.m. today.

"The problem is with parking lots, sidewalks and the roads in some subdivisions in the county," said Carol Mowen, spokeswoman for the Washington County Public Schools.

The central office as well as the offices of most of the county's schools will be open today, Mowen said.

Before the snow season began, the last official day of school was set as June 12, according to the school system's Web site.


"Every year, the school calendar has eight days built in for snow closings," Mowen said. At the end of the school year, the designated last day of school is moved up by the number of days that weren't used as snow days.

According to, a Web site maintained by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, 5 inches of snow and ice were measured on the ground after the storm that began Tuesday morning.

Despite the icy conditions, emergency-services and police dispatchers in the county reported few problems Wednesday.

The highway department and its contractors are responsible for clearing about 835 miles of roads. By late afternoon, Plank said he was unsure how many miles had been cleared, but he said the greatest number of problems were in the county's subdivisions.

Because the snow and sleet fell into Wednesday morning, Plank said crews were out clearing roads several times as they were re-covered.

Some trucks being used to clear county roads broke down during the effort, he said. And some of the contractors who were called early Wednesday were unable to move the snow.

"We're making progress," Plank said Wednesday afternoon. "We've had some complaints, and we're having problems. But we're better than we were this morning."

Winds that whipped the area Wednesday night prompted a wind-chill advisory that National Weather Service meteorologist Luis Rosa said would expire at 9 a.m. today.

Today's forecasted high is 22 degrees, but temperatures could feel closer to 10 degrees or even colder, Rosa said.

"Blustery and very cold will be the rule," AccuWeather meteorologist Bob Smerbeck said.

Taking winds into account, Smerbeck predicted temperatures today might feel closer to the single digits, or even below zero degrees this morning.

He said the next few days will be dry, though a weak front Saturday could dump a little bit of snow.

Plank said the department's phone rang Wednesday with residents saying their roads were not clear yet.

"The phones are just going wild," Plank said. "We're going to keep going, though, until we get them all clear."

Eric Deike, manager of public works for the City of Hagerstown, said the city had about 13 trucks and two backhoes clearing 107 miles of roads.

"I think today went all right," he said. "But it will take a full 12 hours to get everything looking good."

Deike said crews worked all day Tuesday and started again early Wednesday. They were expected to be working to clear the city's roads until about 7 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

"Without the ice, it would have gone faster," Deike said. "The sleet and freezing rain certainly make things heavier and a lot more difficult."

He said the rate at which the sleet fell made it hard for crews to keep up.

"It took some time this morning to get that in order," he said.

Fire and rescue personnel across the county said they had little trouble making it to emergency calls. Most said they had only one or two calls by late afternoon.

Captain Chuck Burleson at Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. said the station had only one call Tuesday night on Interstate 81. By about 1 p.m. Wednesday it was "quiet," he said.

If needed, though, Burleson said they were ready to navigate nearby roads and the highway, including some roads that hadn't yet been cleared.

He said firefighters put a plow on the front of one of the station's brush trucks. If needed, the brush truck could drive in front of an ambulance to clear a path.

Cliff Davis, a firefighter and medic at Williamsport Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said emergency personnel had been called out three or four times and had no trouble with the roads.

"We've been doing pretty good," he said.

Staff writers Karen Hanna and Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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