How school officials know when to call a snow day

January 1, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

All roads come under consideration during winter weather

Issaquah School District buses line up on a snow day. Contributed

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for a drier-than-normal winter in the Pacific Northwest is good news for local schools, but just in case, Jo Porter and her transportation staff are prepared.

As the director of transportation for the Issaquah School District, Porter keeps a constant eye on the weather report. If it looks like it is going to snow, then she and Connie McCoy, Laurie Mulvihill, Gayle Morgan and Lucy Anderson are out by 3 a.m., driving the roads that crisscross the 110 square miles of the school district.

“It’s an experience,” Porter said. “Nobody has been traveling where we go. You might see the newspaper delivery person, but nobody else is out there.”

With their firsthand knowledge of road conditions, the group meets back at Porter’s office to come up for a recommendation to the superintendent — whether to delay the start of schools or close them all together.

A few inches of snow can mean all the difference between starting class two hours late and canceling it for the day.

What to know

In the event of winter weather, emergency information about schools and buses can be found on the radio, TV and on the district’s website — — or by calling the district’s hotline at 837-7000.

Learn more about snow bus routes and how late starts effect your child at as well. Click on “transportation” under the “Family Resources” tab, and then choose “Emergency Transportation bulletin” on the pop-up menu.

“If we have 3 inches and there is more coming in, we will cancel school,” Porter said.

If it looks like the snow will turn to rain, she explained, then perhaps only a late start is required.

“If we go two hours late, we are going to get some sunlight,” she said. “Drivers can see better, plus it gives the city and county time to clean up the roads.”

As well, she added, it gives the transportation department time to put chains on buses and make any other necessary preparations.

The ultimate decision is up to the superintendent and is based on how easily the buses, not private vehicles, can get down roads.

Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains, with elevations reaching up to 3,000 feet, are the areas that present the most challenges. If the weather report calls for a snow level of 1,200 feet, Porter said she expects snow on at least some of the bus routes. Whatever the decision is, it’s districtwide. So, the snow may be piling up in one area while other roads are bare. But if school closes, it closes for everyone.

“It’s a no-win decision. If I close school, people are unhappy,” Porter said. “For us, we don’t get that much snow, so when we do it’s a real snow event … in our area, you do have to worry about it, because people don’t have plows on their pickups, and the city and county doesn’t have enough plows.”

In the event of inclement weather, bus drivers carry ice scrapers, GPS, two-way radios and chains. They have gloves, warm clothes and good shoes handy in case they need to put chains on the tires.

Porter said that it is not the snow that buses get stuck in, but the traffic.

“It’s the traffic that gets bottlenecked,” she said. “Everything just comes to a halt.”

Porter recommends that, if sending their kids to school that day, parents put them on the school bus rather than try to drive themselves. The buses are really heavy vehicles, she explained, and are driven by professionals who are trained to handle bad weather.

On average, the district has about two to three late starts and one or two cancellations each winter. When school is closed for the day, all meetings, field trips and after-school activities are cancelled as well, even if the weather clears up.

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2 Responses to “How school officials know when to call a snow day”

  1. Sally on January 7th, 2013 11:41 pm

    I have always appreciated the concern the Bus Barn has had for the safety of our students. Mostly the calls to late start are correct. So they blow one once in awhile. I appreciate that they are trying. It is really immature to howl when it seems like they made a hurried decision and the same ones would have a hissy if school buses were not cancelled. I loved having my kids home on those days and they were special times. But I did have the opportunity to be home and I know that is not the case nowadays. Neverthe less we have people out early looking out for out kids and remember, trained or not, those drivers put themselves on the line every day. I applaud them.

  2. Heatblizzard on October 7th, 2013 3:39 am

    I know I am late but they should seriously consider allowing specific school closures that are on the effected bus route instead of this all or nothing.

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