Expected ice, low temps prompt preparation

By Bill Colvard - bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com

Surry County public school students can rest easy. The few hours they spent at school early Monday morning before classes were dismissed at 10:30 a.m. were not spent in vain.

Surry School Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves confirmed later Monday those days would count. “If buses roll, school systems get credit for the day,” he said.

The early dismissal followed a winter weather advisory from the National Weather Service coming on the heels of many days of sub-freezing temperatures.

The National Weather Service’s Blacksburg, Virginia, office put out a Winter Weather Advisory Monday for Mount Airy and surrounding areas with an urgent winter weather message.

The message predicted a light wintry mix expected for Monday afternoon, with sleet and freezing rain being the dominant precipitation through the afternoon and evening, turning to cold rain by Monday night.

Reeves made the decision to go ahead and close county schools at 10:30 a.m., saying the apparent conflict between the urgency of the weather service’s advisory and the mildness of the forecast was not hard to understand.

“It has been so cold for so many consecutive days that any moisture will be treacherous,” said Reeves. “The roads will get slick very quickly.”

Reeves added that he had been told by the National Weather Service that by noon Monday Surry County could feel the effects of the precipitation. Reeves made the decision noting that it takes an hour and a half for all of the county’s school buses to make it back to school safely. The urgency to dismiss so early came from the extreme temperatures experienced recently, according to Reeves. “We can’t wait until the weather gets here. We don’t have a crystal ball.”

Mount Airy City Schools dismissed at similar times Monday; Jones Elementary and Mount Airy Middle School dismissed at 10:15 a.m. with BH Tharrington Primary and Mount Airy High School dismissing at 10:30 a.m.

Carrie Venable, public information officer for Mount Airy city Schools, said, “As a district, we try to anticipate winter weather occurring. For this event, our main concern was the current road temperatures. Any moisture that falls will be falling onto a frozen surface. We worked to make a decision that would ensure that all students and staff arrived home safely prior to the arrival of the precipitation. Ideally we would want to make calls the night before. Sometimes the call isn’t obvious and we must wait to see how the early morning conditions are.”

Reeves said the decision-making process on school for Tuesday will be similar to other days.

”We evaluate the forecast, the temperatures, and if we can make a responsible decision the day before, we do. If not, we get up before 4 a.m. and ride the roads so we can make decision by 5 a.m. and let our bus drivers know.”

Reeves added that the school system had in place a weather team that rides various routes all over the county to check conditions. “The whole county is covered,” said Reeves. Consultations are done with Department of Transportation, Emergency Medical Services and the sheriff’s department.

John Shelton, Surry County Emergency Services director, stated on Monday that he was beefing up staffing, both to receive 911 calls which he said always spike when the weather turns bad, and for emergency response crews.

County hospital patients requiring transport to other facilities were being moved quickly in order to complete the transport before any precipitation began, and ambulances were being equipped with cleated tires because the expectation was for ice rather than snow.

“We are doing all the normal stuff we do to prepare,” he said. Shelton urged everyone to get home before it starts.

“The city’s salt and sand trucks are equipped to be ready,” said Jeff Boyles, Mount Airy public works director.


By Bill Colvard


Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.