By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — After three straight days without school due to weather, school was scheduled to resume Tuesday following the Christmas vacation week. But then again, with a deep freeze predicted for Monday night into Tuesday, it's to be determined whether roads will be safe enough for students to return to school.
“We're supposed to have extreme cold weather coming in. How badly it will freeze up, we don't know yet,” said SAU 9 Superintendent Carl Nelson Monday, the third straight school cancellation day.
The day's freezing rain caused road flooding and icing, making travel conditions hazardous.
The rain followed snow on Thursday, originally scheduled to be the first day back after Christmas week break, and the forecast for Friday had been for heavy snow in southern New England, resulting in the cancellation that day as well.
Nelson said he originally called for a two-hour delayed start to the school day Monday, but after conferring with SAU 13 Superintendent Lou Goscinski and hearing that Tamworth, Freedom and Madison were all in tough shape, he made a decision at approximately 7:15 a.m. to cancel classes for the day.
“Simply put, safety is always behind our decisions, both for the students and staff. It's the key to the whole thing,” said Nelson. “This obviously has been very unusual to have a four- or five-day run of subzero temperatures, followed by snowfall, and now icing on top of that.”
Asked if the canceled school days would result in students going to school until July, Nelson said he has yet to determine how the three days of canceled school would impact the school calendar year. Schools are required to offer 180 days of school for non-seniors and 175 for seniors.
On the roadways, Lt. Chris Perley of Conway Police Department said no serious accidents had been reported as of 2:30 p.m. Monday.
“There have been no serious accidents but more than a dozen slide-offs have been reported — those involve cars off the roads, but they're not really accidents,” said Perley.
He confirmed a report of an 18-wheeler that jackknifed on Route 16 in Conway near the Technology Village, and also said a tow truck slid off a road in Center Conway while responding to a motorist whose vehicle had slid off Strawberry Lane there.
“So,” said Perley, “it just shows that it is dangerous in these conditions not only for drivers but for emergency responders as well. We will always respond, but it may be delayed in these kinds of adverse conditions. The fact that we had icy roads ad such from the deep freeze combined with the water on top made for some very slippery and unpredictable conditions.”
Power outages were reported in the valley area by Public Service Company of New Hampshire but power was restored by Monday afternoon, according to spokesman Martin Murray.
“PSNH crews responded today to about two dozen separate incidents that resulted in power outages in the area,” said Murray. “The calls started coming in about 3 a.m. and the PSNH crews were busy until early afternoon when all customers were restored.”
Customers impacted were in the towns of Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Effingham, Ossipee and Tamworth.
“Several hundred customers in total were impacted by the outages, which were all weather related; in most cases trees or limbs coming down on wires as a result of the windy, icy conditions,” said Murray.
“We lost power for about an hour, but our generator kicked on so all of our [computer] servers stayed connected,” said Jac Cuddy, executive director of the MWV Economic Council, which is based at the MWV Technology Village and served by PSNH. “Some businesses sent their workers home to work from home, as no one knew how long the power would be out.”
Seth Wheeler of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative said the NHEC reported no outages in the valley, but that Monday and Tuesday's freeze could pose problems. “Keep your fingers crossed for tonight when the big freeze settles in, but it appears we’ve dodged a bullet with this potential ice storm [Monday],” said Wheeler.
Conway Public Works director Paul DegliAngeli said conditions were challenging Monday.
“The roads are looking better, fortunately,” said DegliAngeli Monday afternoon. “Our challenge is always to clear it before temperatures drop. We are not out of it yet. We have to use a lot of salt, so this type of storm is costly for overtime and salt.”
Although December proved to be a snowy month, DegliAngeli said the town was able to finish the year within budget.
“Roads continue to be icy in spots — so motorists should drive cautiously,” said DegliAngeli.
Because of the rain and ice, North Conway cooperative weather observer Ed Bergeron — an avid skier — wanted to give the day a low rating of “2 cents” out of a possible top rating of 50 cents on WMWV 93.5-FM’s “Morning Weather Show” Monday morning. Show co-host Roy “The Skiing DJ” Prescott told Bergeron, however, that that would fly in the face of tradition, as the lowest possible rating is a nickel. Bergeron begrudgingly revised his rating to a nickel as a result.
According to Magic 104 and WMWV 93.5-FM, local cancellations Monday included: SAU 49, SAU 9, SAU 13, MSAD 72, MSAD 61, Lilliputian Montessori, Mountain View Montessori, Robert Frost Charter School, White Mountain Waldorf School, Plymouth State University, North Conway Daycare, Children Unlimited, Cornerstone Kids Daycare, Little Treasures.
Other scheduling changes due to the storm included:
• Madison school board meeting rescheduled for Tuesday night; Eaton School Board meeting for Monday canceled, next meeting will be on Feb. 3.
Other closings Monday included: Gibson Center for Senior Services; King Pine Ski Resort, Wildcat Mountain, Madison Library, North Conway Public Library, Carroll County Transit and Mountain Top Music.
Wilcox: ’Better to have the rain after Christmas Week’
Cranmore Mountain Resort was among the local areas that remained open, despite the weather.
“If we are to get a weather event like this, it's always good to have it after a busy Christmas vacation week, and not during,” said Cranmore president and general manager Ben Wilcox Monday, a day when there were very few skiers on the mountain, but which was nonetheless open for business, wet as it was. “We had a very strong week, so we were happy with that.”
The rain and ice forced the cancellation of the first day of the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Junior Ski Program for John Fuller Elementary School at Cranmore Monday, as well as for Conway Elementary Tuesday, according to board member Brett Newton. He urged parents to consult the club's Facebook page or web page for updates.