The White Plains Examiner

Lack of Snow Storm Preparation Brings Criticism from Teachers and Parents

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(Updated 2:45 p.m. 11-16-18).  Thursday afternoon’s storm turned into a dangerous trek home for many Westchester residents as snow and freezing rain set up a dangerous situation on local roadways.

Most school districts in the more northern municipalities of the county arranged early closure and sent students home between noon and 2 p.m. Weather predictions for that area indicated heavier snowfall totals.

Those districts in mid-Westchester and along the eastern edge of the county, opted to stay open but cancelled after-school programs and late buses. With the storm traveling faster and dropping more snow than expected, many school students were stuck on buses not able to access their routes, with parents worried about their children’s whereabouts and safety.

Teachers joining other commuters on their way home faced icy road conditions with accidents and fender benders, and traffic gridlock as local highways were closed. Some people were stuck in their cars for up to 7 or 8 hours.

Receiving criticism from parents and teachers in the White Plains School District, School Superintendent Joseph Ricca sent a message late Thursday apologizing for not closing schools earlier.

“I know that this afternoon’s storm caused one of the worst commutes ever. I am sorry that you were on the roads during the treacherous weather and I am sorry for the stress and frustration you, your families and loved ones felt due to the nature of the weather and the roads. …Your safety and wellbeing are of the greatest importance to me and I regret that you experienced this situation. Please know that we will continue to do our very best to make decisions that will protect the safety of our children and faculty/staff members with regard to the weather and our schedule,” Ricca’s note said.

Around 5:30 a.m. Friday morning the Superintendent’s office sent around notice that school opening would be delayed for two hours due to weather conditions. By 8 a.m. it was announced that schools would remain closed Friday.

Speaking with The White Plains Examiner Friday afternoon, Ricca said school superintendents from area districts usually communicate with each other when making school closing and delay decisions. “There is a lot that goes into it,” he said. “We work with the information we are given. Yesterday’s forecast called for 1 to 2 inches of snow, followed by rain. It was a difficult situation for everyone.”

The superintendents group was on a conference call Friday at 4:45 a.m. when they made the decision for a 2-hour delay.

While driving through White Plains on Friday morning, Ricca noted that the city DPW had done an excellent job of clearing the roads, but there still were pockets of White Plains that were not cleared out, and it was still precipitating.

Ricca made the decision to close the schools because he did not want children standing outside in precarious situations. “It was right at the line,” Ricca said. “I decided to close the schools at 7:45 a.m.”

According to the Mayor’s office, White Plains DPW pre-salted all city roads at 10 a.m. on Thursday. A full complement of trucks (over 70) was out working to clear the roads throughout the storm.

On Friday morning, all White Plains roads were cleared and garbage was being collected as usual.

During a press conference Friday morning, County Executive George Latimer said: “Last night we were humbled by Mother Nature.”

Latimer explained that the storm, moving quickly up the coast from Washington, DC to Boston, hit Westchester around 3 p.m. “The temperature dropped by 27 degrees in 20 minutes and a projected 1 to 3 inch accumulation increased dramatically,” Latimer said.

Southern Westchester received 5 inches, White Plains 7 inches, and Jefferson Valley 8.5 inches.

Standing outside the county office building at 2 p.m. Thursday, Latimer explained it did not seem apparent that county facilities should be closed early.

The fact that the storm hit during rush hour caused a “perfect storm” situation and made it difficult for municipalities’ DPW crews to keep up with snow removal. Latimer explained that snowplows need 3 inches of snow with vehicles moving at least 5 mph in a clear lane to move the snow. The county had pretreated the Bronx River Parkway and other roads it is responsible for at noon and then just before the snow began, but across the area, the speed of the snowfall caught everyone by surprise.

Westchester Commissioner of Public Safety Tom Gleason said commuters had to plan ahead in general by carrying winter weather equipment in their cars, so if they are caught, they can handle the situation with flares, blankets and other emergency equipment. Across the county 150 cars were left abandoned on roads, which had to be cleared for DPW vehicles to get through, adding to the direness of the situation.

In Greenburgh, receiving criticism for similar difficulties in that township, Supervisor Paul Feiner also apologized for residents’ inconvenience. He noted that Westchester municipalities should come together to discuss and evaluate their experiences during yesterday’s storm to prepare for better snow removal in the future, including snow removal on New York State roads in the county.

With most roads cleared and open by 9 p.m., Thursday, Latimer emphasized that timing can be everything. “If a storm hits at midnight or midday, it is much easier for crews to clear because the roads are not crowded,” he said. A storm that hits during rush hour, that’s another story.

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