Record-breaking dangerous cold means another snow day in Kansas City

03/03/2014 3:31 AM

03/03/2014 3:31 AM

A double whammy of slick roads and dangerously frigid temperatures made for some easy decisions to close schools across the Kansas City area — again. But the kids who are cheering Monday morning might be groaning come May if this brutal winter eats into the bliss of summer vacation.

It wasn’t the “snowpocalypse” many of us feared over the weekend. But the weather proved plenty unsavory nonetheless, and many streets were still snow-covered on Sunday evening.

That, combined with a forecast of wind chills as low as 20 below zero, led school officials to decide as early as Sunday afternoon that it was too dangerous for students to try to get to school.

“The cold along with road conditions is a reason to cancel school,” said Mary Jo Burton, a spokeswoman for the North Kansas City school district.

Low temperatures by themselves are usually not a reason to cancel school as long as roads are clear enough for buses to stay on schedule. But with the expected wind chill Monday morning cold enough to cause frostbite to exposed skin in 20 minutes, the consequences of buses running late would have been serious.

The dangerous cold set a record Sunday, when the mercury didn’t rise above 5 degrees at Kansas City International Airport. The previous lowest high for March in Kansas City was 11 degrees, set March 4, 1978. Monday morning is expected to be 6 degrees below zero, breaking the previous March record of 1 below, set March 3, 1978, according to the National Weather Service.

That’s so cold that even schools that are sometimes a little slower to call a snow day, such as Rockhurst High School, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to be in session Monday. That decision was tilted a little more by road conditions because practically all of its students get to school by car, not bus.

“The decision was made on the side of caution,” said Robbie Haden, a spokesman for the school.

Kids who are thrilled about that caution might feel differently in May if all the snow days this winter force districts to push back the start of summer vacation. A small sampling showed a mixed impact.

North Kansas City Schools said that after Monday, it will have used six of the seven snow days built into the schedule. The district might have a little more cushion, with board approval, because the school year has two more days than the state requires.

The Kansas City, Kan., school district is required to have a certain number of minutes of instruction each year, and “it’s getting close” with no school Monday, said David Smith, the district’s chief of staff.

Independence said it doesn’t have snow days built into its schedule, so it has to make them up by extending the school year and keeping school open on days that it had been previously scheduled to be closed, such as holidays.

“I think that every district is looking at their snow days, or their inclement weather days, and how those are going to impact the end of the school year,” said Independence Public School District spokeswoman Nancy Lewis. “However, I don’t know how that impacts the decision tomorrow. That decision is dependent on the weather and school safety.”

While snow accumulations were short of the 7 or 8 inches that had been predicted for much of the area Sunday, frigid temperatures kept things interesting.

“If you’re measuring precise numbers, it was not as high as forecasted,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Blair, who said snowfall throughout the area ranged from 2 to 4 inches by the time things wound down Sunday afternoon. “But certainly 3 to 4 inches of snow-sleet mixture out there is still pretty bad.”

The cold prompted a slew of church closings, and the cold temperatures left many people stuck at home.

Boy Scout Troop 354 in Overland Park briefly considered calling off its annual fundraising breakfast Sunday morning before making a last-minute decision to go through with it.

And while attendance at the event — held at Overland Park’s Knox Presbyterian Church — was down from last year, the troop still raised around $1,000, close to its earnings last year.

“There were some worried times,” said Paul Hediger, chairman of the fundraiser. “Hearing the upcoming weather reports, we waited until the last minute yesterday to go shopping for supplies.”

Though most businesses on the Country Club Plaza remained open, the traffic through one of Kansas City’s most popular shopping districts was less than that of a typical weekend afternoon.

“We’re getting a little bit of foot traffic, obviously nothing like a normal Sunday,” said Melanie Morris, a manager at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue on the Plaza. “But we’re staying open.”

When it looked like the precipitation was finished, crews began clearing the roads for the start of the work week.

City street workers powered up 175 trucks to salt major roadways, with 65 others sent to residential areas.

“What we’re looking at more than anything else is allow us to get in there, get the work done, and allow us to get the roads to where people can get to work on Monday,” said Sean Demory, Kansas City Public Works Department spokesman.

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