School cancellations tough call

Drivers make their way though the dense fog that engulfed the area Wednesday. (File photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

WESTFIELD – With weather seeming to be more and more unpredictable, the decision to cancel school is being made that much more difficult.
Add to that the varied terrain of Westfield, and it can be a tough call for the superintendent of schools to make.
This week, the call to cancel was made as high school students were getting ready for school. Some were already or en route or had arrived when notification was made to families at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said icy roads – combined with a pre-scheduled half-day for development ­- were the reason for cancelling school this week.
“At about 6:20 a.m. the school department heard about a number of accidents and spin-outs, including one bus accident,” Knapik said. “I was already out and my take was that the downtown area was okay, but up toward Montgomery and up Pontoosic Road, it tends to be colder,”
Knapik said Westfield’s cancellation protocol includes input from the police and Department of Public Works.
“As police run the streets they notify the DPW of problem spots,” said Knapik. ‘(On Wednesday) it seemed to be good.”
Then several incidents of vehicles sliding on streets were reported and a two-hour delay was not an option because it was already a half-day of school.
“It was a tough spot,” said Knapik.
He said sanding and salting Westfield’s 300 miles of streets cannot be done quickly and it is better to be safe than sorry.
“I’ve been in the safety business 20 years and you should always err on the side of safety,” said Knapik. “You can always make up a day of school, but you can’t make up a life.”
Southwick native Eric Fisher, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, said weather is still predictable, but there are subtleties such as black ice that can make deciding whether or not to cancel school more difficult.
“Yesterday there were weather advisories all over New England,” he said, “But it was an unusual event. A storm like that in January you might only see once every few decades.”
Fisher said Wednesday’s temperatures went from freezing in the early morning to the 50s by mid-afternoon, bringing lots of fog to the area. By Thursday, however, it was back to seasonal weather.
“It will be much more like it should be for February over the next week or so,” Fisher said.
Fisher said while there have been some unusual storms in recent years and there is a warming trend, the weather has not become “unpredictable” or crazy.
“The perception of weather has changed because we see it so widely,” he said, noting that weather from around the world can be seen through the media in real-time.
Fisher said the United States as a whole has been warmer the past few years, but recalled that just three winters ago people were shoveling snow in New England nearly every day and collapsed roofs were common.

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