Icy roads give Bitterroot Valley students a day off

2011-01-13T20:46:00Z 2011-01-13T20:57:04Z Icy roads give Bitterroot Valley students a day offBy WHITNEY BERMES - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic
January 13, 2011 8:46 pm  • 

You name it and Mother Nature probably threw it at the Bitterroot Valley on Wednesday.

Snow? Rain? Below-freezing temps? Check, check and check.

All those conditions combined made for some slick and slippery Ravalli County roads.

School was cancelled on Thursday for all school districts except for three. Stevensville and Lone Rock each got the day started late. Florence schools went on as scheduled.

Hamilton Superintendent Duby Santee said snow may not slow down Hamilton bus drivers, but ice sure does.

"This black ice just kills us," Santee said. "So we'll go with a foot of snow because our buses can actually get traction in the snow. This black ice is the killer."

Santee said the district has criteria to determine whether or not to cancel a day of classes for its five schools.

The first is to see if the county has declared only emergency vehicles allowed on the roads, Santee said.

Next, Santee said the district has drivers on the roads as early as 4:30 a.m. to report driving conditions, especially on Westside Road. Santee said he communicates with the bus coordinator, checking the day's weather reports.

"It didn't look like we were going to thaw out (Thursday) by noon," said Santee, making it too late to run the buses and bring everyone into school.

The third thing the district does is check with maintenance at each building, making sure heat and power are up and running at all the schools.

Because most of this happens before the sun even comes up, Santee said the district has to sometimes make snap decisions.

"We have to make a really quick decision and go with it, whatever that might be," he said. "There's not much that stops us, but the ice was too heavy to handle."

Santee said the Hamilton School District is allowed one day a year for bad weather and this is the first one of the school year. If the district cancels any more school, they will have to make up those days.

This is the first cancellation he can remember said Santee, who has been working in the district for over 20 years.

The icy roads also kept Montana Highway Patrol busy Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Trooper Chris Hamilton, who was on duty until 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, said there were four or five crashes along with over half a dozen slide-offs that didn't result in any damage or injuries.

As for Thursday morning, Hamilton reported three crashes and a few slide-offs.

"Nothing serious," he said.

Hamilton said he was surprised by the relatively low number of reported crashes.

"It was lighter than I would have expected," he said. "I think people were actually being pretty careful."

Hamilton said most of the reported crashes and slide-offs were between Hamilton and Stevensville on Highway 93.

While throughout the year more crashes occur on the last remaining two-lane portion of Highway 93, Hamilton said Wednesday night's mostly happened in the four-lane areas.

"I think people get confident with the big wide road," and tend to drive a bit faster, he said.

Reporter Whitney Bermes can be reached at 363-3300 or whitney.bermes@ravallirepublic.com.


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(1) Comments

  1. Misanthrope
    Report Abuse
    Misanthrope - January 14, 2011 5:59 pm
    I wish the schools had told the parents. I only found out by coincidence, just as I was sending my kid to the bus stop. They really need an automated phone system to alert people when school is closed or starting late.
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