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Drastic snowfall causes closure of entire division for two days

Posted on December 6, 2013 by Westwind Weekly

Following the drastic change in weather from -3 to -23, and lower, from Sunday to Monday the Westwind School Division had its first division-wide closure in more than four years.

“There are 13 schools in seven communities and an additional 19 colony schools,” said Superintendent Ken Sommerfeldt of the closed schools. “It can be pretty rare (to have a division-wide closure). The information we were working with Monday and Tuesday morning was that the storm was very wide-spread, which is why we made the decision that we did.”

Unfortunately the weather doesn’t always co-operate with the schools timeline, said Sommerfeldt, adding that by the time the decision was made Monday morning buses were already out. Typically the division comes to a consensus on closures prior to 6 a.m., however the storm “wasn’t severe” until later on Monday.

“For some people it was inconvenient the decision was made as late as it was . . . But really, we are at the mercy of mother nature,” Sommerfeldt said of the closure decision on Monday morning.

“We appreciate (parent’s) patience with us and we wish we could control mother nature better and not have it snow on the weekends, but we just can’t do that.”

Within the Westwind School Division there are three levels at which closures can occur. First, each bus driver has the right to call and say their bus won’t be running that day, second, the school principal can call and state their situation to the division and finally the closure of the entire division.

All final decisions on closures are made by the superintendent.

Communication, between the various areas of the division, is key to making the system work.

Most often, when adverse weather strikes, the superintendent is on the phone with the bus drivers and Transportation Supervisor Bronc Pilling as early as 5 a.m., to see what conditions are like.

“If the roads in town are drivable we will typically have schools open,” Sommerfeldt said.

“In some cases we feel its just necessary to close the school and not have anybody come there – that’s somewhat rare.”

Despite driving conditions “not being the best,” reports of motor-vehicle-collisions are impressively low in the areas of Stirling, Raymond and Magrath said RCMP Sgt. Kelly McCoy.

“People are abiding by the winter driving conditions and hopefully that keeps up,” he said. “They are typical winter road conditions so warm those vehicles up and clean all the snow and ice off and have your lights on for safety – be seen,” he said.

“Be careful and make sure you have some winter gear in the car, or an emergency kit in case you hit the ditch, so you are good to go until the tow truck driver gets there.”

This time of year it is not uncommon for large, fluffy snow drifts to turn into nightmares for farmers with cattle either.

“Check the road reports before you go anywhere, or if it’s not safe, just do the smart thing and stay at home,” said Magrath Fire Chief Cliff Blackwell.

“There was a couple semis in the ditch, but it looks like they just drove off the road and need a tow truck,” said Stirling Fire Chief Thomas Hodder. “We haven’t had any calls . . . There’s a lot of snow in Stirling though and 50 to 60 km is as fast as I will go. If anybody doesn’t have to be on the road, they are better off staying at home.”

Scheduled season opener games were also postponed due to the weather this week. Both the Raymond 4A Boys vs Cardston and Cardston girls vs LCI will be made up at “mutually agreeable dates,” said David Wells, a co-ordinator for academic sporting events within southern Alberta.

For more information on school closures please visit http://www.westwind.ab.ca., follow them on Twitter @wwsd74, or check out their Facebook Page. The division can also be reached by phone at 403-653-4991

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