CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The 22News Storm Team looked into how communities in western Massachusetts deal with snow, from our schools to our roads, and how the snowfall is tracked from year to year.
It’s the time of year that students across the area get excited about the possibility of snow days. It’s part of a superintendent’s job to decide how weather impacts the school schedule.
22News spoke with West Springfield public schools superintendent Michael Richard about these decisions.
So what is the main purpose of school delays, early dismissals or complete cancellations?
“There’s only one consideration, that’s student safety. We always want to make sure that our students, our staff and our families can get our stakeholders to and from school safely whenever there’s inclement weather.”Michael Richard, West Springfield Superintendent
Decision-making starts with a 4 a.m. conference call between the superintendent, mayor, head of DPW among others to discuss road conditions, preparation, and the forecast. Richard often consults with neighboring district superintendents but makes his final decision based on what’s in the best interest of his district.
Decisions are made by 5:30 a.m. before staff starts to make their way to school. There are three options available. Complete cancellation, a late start or early dismissal.
“Early dismissals are the most challenging decision to make for sure because families who are working are at work and often times that means sending young ones home to empty homes and so we really try not to have an early dismissal as much as possible because that’s the most disruptive.”Michael Richard, West Springfield Superintendent
West Springfield doesn’t have a set number of snow days, but any snow day taken becomes a day added on at the end of the year. There are no set criteria for a snow day.
“Come the end of January in the beginning of February people have seen the snow and they’re used to driving in it and you can have four inches of snow and people can say no big deal and 6 weeks earlier wtih 2 inches of snow the sky is falling, so it does change, but it’s never about how many have we used and how many do we have available to us, it really is always about student safety, but peoples comfort levels definitely acclimate as the season progresses.”Michael Richard, West Springfield Superintendent
With pressure to avoid liability, Richard admits districts probably cancel school more now than decades ago.
Head west out of the Pioneer Valley, higher up and into the hills and you’re into an area known as the hilltowns which are the eastern slopes of the Berkshires and it’s places like here that get more snow usually in the winter and with that more challenges that you don’t necessarily deal with in the valley.
That’s where we meet Charles “Chip” Dazelle, Highway Superintendent for the hilltown of Huntington in far western Hampshire County. He runs a department of 3 full-time employees, responsible for salting, sanding and plowing 12 miles of dirt road and 21 miles of pavement.
“There’s days we’ll get ice on the hill, nothing downtown. Ice downtown and nothing on the hill or snow either way. So you’ve got to ride both areas pretty much the whole town to get a look and then come up with a plan to come up with whatever procedure you’ve got to do. sand, salt, plow.”Charles “Chip” Dazelle, Huntington Highway Superintendent
During a storm, Chip and his team will get up at 4 a.m. and clear the roads that are often steep and narrow. The roughly 2,000 people who live here seem appreciative of the work done by this small, but hardworking department.
“All in all the general public is good in doing things. We know they’ve gotta get somewhere and they know we’ve gotta get things done. We try to work together I don’t think anybody likes storms. Snow, ice. “Charles “Chip” Dazelle, Huntington Highway Superintendent
Back in the Pioneer Valley at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, a team of six meteorologists have a narrow focus; Forecasting and reporting weather conditions for the base. Part that job is measuring snowfall for a number of reasons.
“Public safety, so they know what the snow total is for the general area, resource protection and knowing how much snow they need to remove from the runway.”Robert Stacey, Meteorological Technician at Westover
Meteorological Technicians at Westover, like Robert Stacey, measure snowfall on these two boards every hour during a storm. One board gets cleared every six hours, while the other board gets cleared only after the storm is done.
The average of three measurements ends up being the snow report, but that’s not all.
“Part of measuring snow is getting how much liquid is in the snow so we use our rain gauges to collect the snow as it falls. Right now the tube is in it, but for snow events we take off the top and remove the inner cylinder and just let the snow accumulate in the cylinder.Robert Stacey, Meteorological Technician at Westover
They give us a liquid content of the snow and that helps us get the snow ratio so when we’re forecasting we know how much snow to forecast.
It’s helpful to know how wet or dry the snow is for flooding in the spring?
“That and cleanup purposes. If snow is going to be affected by the wind. is it going it to blow around or is going to sit and settle be really heavy wet snow to shovel and how hard it is to clean off the runways.”Robert Stacey, Meteorological Technician at Westover
Most people don’t think of rain gauges when they think snowfall, but in many ways, the rain gauge is almost as important as figuring out how much snow fell?
Definitely.Robert Stacey, Meteorological Technician at Westover
The information gathered at Westover ends up being the official snowfall measurement for the lower Pioneer Valley and it serves as a way for the 22News Storm Team to figure out how accurate our snowfall forecast was.