Wednesday’s predicted snow did not begin to fall in the Great Bend area until after 6 a.m., and the forecast for one to three inches of snow during the daylight hours did not cause Barton County schools to call off classes. But as classes started, snow began to accumulate, leading administrators to consider calling an early release day.
The decision to close schools in Great Bend USD 428 at 1 p.m. came down around 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Central Christian Academy closed at noon, Central Plains USD 112, Hoisington USD 431 and Holy Family School dismissed at 12:30 p.m. Ellinwood USD 355 also dismissed at 1 p.m. By 11:30, schools announced they would remain closed on Thursday.
“Once we have started school it is very difficult to call it early in our community as so many families have to find a way to get to the school to get their kids,” said John Popp, curriculum director of USD 428, filling in for Superintendent Tom Vernon. The schools will only release students to an authorized adult before the normal end of the day. In the past, when early release was called, most of the students remain in the school until 3 p.m. anyway, he said. Parents who do not feel comfortable taking or leaving their child at school may pick them up at any point.
Concern for the safety of students drives the decision whether to close.
“Most parents still have to go to work today and a lot of them don’t have day care for their children at a short notice, so the safest place for these kids is in school where they are warm and fed,” Popp said. “It is important to know that the vast majority of our students live within 11/2 miles of their school. While we don’t want to jeopardize safety, most of the time the safest place for our kids is at school.”
Several churches and organizations cancelled or postponed meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday as a mix of ice and snow began to stick on roadways. The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce cancelled Thursday’s Chamber Coffee and postponed a ribbon cutting for new business Computer 91 to a date to be announced. Chamber Coffee will resume next week at The Gallery, located at 2021 Forest.
Several businesses and medical practices announced noon closings on Wednesday also.
The Kan Care Tour scheduled to take place from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Highland Convention Center was cancelled also. Representatives hoped to educate health care providers and citizens about KanCare, Kansas’ new Medicaid program. Miranda Steele with the KDHE said the meeting will be rescheduled and a date will be announced soon.
The Family Crisis Center office closed Wednesday but the crisis line is still available. “Call 792-1885 or toll free 866-7921885 for help,” Laura Patzner with the FCC said.
One event scheduled for Friday has also been cancelled. The Dominican Sisters’ Movies with a Message, featuring the 2008 movie “Doubt” (2008) and the discussion following will not occur. The next installment of the movie and discussion series will be announced at a later date.
Wednesday morning, Angee Morgan, deputy Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said that the State Emergency Operations Center had been activated in anticipation of the sorms. The EOC will continue on a 24-hour basis until further notice.
For those at home, Morgan said the best thing to do is be prepared and wait for it to pass.
“The three most basic things a person needs when snowed in are food, water and a warm shelter,” said Morgan. “Your home emergency kit should contain enough food, water, medicines and other essentials to make sure every member of your family can survive for a minimum of three days on your own.”
If you must venture out, the Kanas Highway Patrol offers this advice:
• Allow extra time for delays and slower traffic speeds.
• Buckle up and properly secure children in safety seats.
• Increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. Ice and snow significantly increase your stopping distance.
• Accelerate and brake gently. A light foot on the gas is less likely to make wheels spin on ice and snow. Braking is best accomplished by pumping the pedal. If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), it is very important that you understand how to use it. Read the owner’s manual or check with a dealership for more information, and practice using it correctly.
• Make turns slowly and gradually, especially in heavily traveled areas (e.g. intersections that may be icy from snow that melted and refroze).
• Visibility is very important. You must be able to see out, and other drivers must be able to see your vehicle. Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors, and lights. Use headlights as necessary.
• If your car loses traction and begins to slide, steer into the swerve, or in the direction you want to go. Anticipate a second skid in the opposite direction as the car straightens out.
• If you plan to drive, do not drink. Designate a driver or call a cab. Report impaired drivers to a law enforcement agency.
• Watch for deer, especially near dusk and dawn.
Snow was predicted to continue through the rest of Wednesday and throughout Thursday, finally ending around 10 p.m. Thursday night. Estimates called for between six inches and a foot of snow.