MERE DUSTING IN 'SNOWOUT'
While much of the Southeast was a sheet of ice, Madison County spared
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:00 PM
Madison County School District Superintendent Ronnie McGehee defends his decision to keep schools open Tuesday and Wednesday after a winter storm pounded the southeastern United States.
Vehicles travel cautiously along the Natchez Trace in Ridgeland through a light snow on Tuesday.
Schools in Hinds, Rankin and other counties in the state closed Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the winter storm that only dropped half-an-inch of snow in some parts of Madison County.
As flurries came down Tuesday morning, and as districts across the region began canceling classes, McGehee and other officials decided to have school.
"It takes a lot for us to close school," he said. "High on our list, of course, is the road travel. I know it looks awful when everybody south, east and west of Madison County is closed but we don't have near the amount of overpasses Jackson and Rankin County have."
McGehee said he began meeting with emergency management officials Monday afternoon to plot of a course of action.
After determining Madison County was on the outer edge of the storm, they began evaluating road conditions as early as 4 a.m. Tuesday.
First Student Transportation Manager Bobby Lenke actually rode some bus routes in Ridgeland at 4:30 a.m. for an hour to determine if the buses would operate smoothly, McGehee said.
"As a general rule we try to make a decision by 6 a.m.," he explained. "And at 12 o'clock yesterday the flurries stopped. The roads were in great shape." McGehee admitted to receiving a few phone calls from upset parents but said those are inevitable. "It's a decision we don't make lightly," he said. "The other side of all this is it becomes a huge domino effect." He said canceling classes with only two hours notice affects parents and employers, too. County EMA Director Butch Hammack said the biggest issue they faced from the weather event was whether or not to have school. "We had some minor icing problems in Ridgeland and Madison," he said. "But north of there the county was clear. Overall it wasn't a major event for us in Madison County."
Hammack said road department crews, public works crews, and law enforcement crews were ready for more of an impact and worked 24 hours building up to the storm. "We worked hard on this behind the scenes," he said. "We did this for 24 hours and we were absolutely confident there would be no problems based on the information we received."
Other parts of the state and region weren't as lucky as Madison County. Accidents were reported across the interstates in the area as icy conditions increased throughout the day. The Mississippi Highway Patrol responded to 358 crashes in the southern part of the state on Tuesday. Highway 49 in Magee was completely shut down as of Wednesday and the I-20/I-59 split in Meridian was impassable, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Many roads and highways in Hattiesburg and the pine belt region were also impassable, with DPS saying "Driving conditions are still treacherous in many areas south of I-20."