Despite Winter Storm Bruce forcing cancelation of flights across the Midwest, and threatening to extend the Thanksgiving holiday by at least a day, school buses largely continued motoring, as they transported students to and from school. But the harsh, wintry weather will only increase.
The National Weather Service said a weather front that dropped a foot of snow across parts of the Mississippi Valley and the Upper Great Lakes regions, would continue to affect parts of New England through Tuesday. “Well below normal” temperatures were also expected to continue across the Midwest.
The NWS added that the Central Plains to the central Appalachians could see temperatures 20- to 30-degrees below the average for this time of year. Meanwhile, six to 12 inches of snow are possible for upstate New York to northern Maine, while over 10 inches of snow are expected for the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario regions.
Unless school is canceled in those regions, student transporters face challenges when starting buses at 5 a.m. for morning routes, as well as navigating snowy, slippery and icy roads.
Dozens of Chicagoland school districts were closed on Monday, but the largest of them remained open. Chicago Public Schools tweeted early Sunday evening that it and the city were closely monitoring the weather, but that classes would be held. At this report, schools were also scheduled to be open on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education told School Transportation News that while public school districts may close for what they deem to be an emergency, they do not report closures until the end of the school year.
Iowa schools remained largely open on Monday, despite temperatures in the teens. Max Christensen, the state director of transportation at the Iowa Department of Transportation, said local districts set policy on idling limits, and added that most idle for about 15 minutes prior to route start time.
The cold weather is expected to continue. Director of Transportation Todd Watkins said Montgomery County Schools in Maryland literally weathered the storms so far this year, except for a storm earlier this fall that delivered more snow than was forecast. The result was a late decision to close that day. Temperatures this week were in the mid 40s, but he said that several days in mid-December are forecast to be in the low 20s. After that, the long-range forecast through January and into February is calling for temperatures in the upper teens to the low 20s.
He explained that the district for the past seven years has purchased school buses that are equipped with master battery cut-off switches that will limit battery draw, which is particularly helpful over weekends and during very cold nights.
“We also use a start crew when the temps are below 18 degrees, or we have a period of four or more days when the buses have not been used,” he added. “The start crew starts each bus beginning at 4 a.m., or 3 a.m. if temps are in the single digits. If it starts easily, they turn it back off right away, assuming it will start easily again at pre-trip time. If it is hard to start, they let it run for a while at fast idle, to recharge the battery. If it won’t start, someone uses a Start All device to get it going, and then lets it run for a while, or even until route time, if it was really hard to start.”
Watkins added that the process has worked well for Montgomery County over the years. He also said the district is fortunate to have almost all of its school buses parked at one of five depot locations, where maintenance facilities are located.
“This helps us take care of no starts very quickly,” he said.
December is expected to bring fluctuations from mild to below-average temperature for the eastern U.S., with blizzards and icy conditions likely to further disrupt travel.