CABOT, Ark. (KTHV) — There is nothing like the anticipation of a school kid with snow in the forecast. Many hoped to add another day to the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend with a winter storm predicted to strike.
National Weather Service forecasters often offer a direct line to school administrators on days and nights before a storm. Those administrators who have the make the ultimate decision hope it they can get a chance to make an early call.
“Usually on days like tomorrow we'll go between 3 and 3:30,” said Roger Tonnasson, the director of transportation for the Cabot Public Schools. “You want to be able to find it before the parents and kids have to get out on the roads.”
Tonnasson knows that's what you sign up for when you run the school bus system at this time of year. He will offer input to district superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman. They will hit the road looking for slick spots.
But a call from the command center of the local National Weather Service office often makes that trip unnecessary.
“It's quite busy because people all across Arkansas want to know what's headed their way,” said Dennis Cavanaugh, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the Little Rock NWS office. “The main thing we offer based on what's already happened what we think is going to happen in the short-term forecast. Basically when do we think the snow is going to stop or when do we think the heaviest snow is going to hit a particular area.”
Buses have engines similar to tractor-trailers and can barge through most road conditions, but even a little bit of ice can send any vehicle for a loop. Plus, school buses don’t have snow tires. For that reason, administrators will make their midnight runs to see conditions for themselves, while the forecasters will field the calls that come in as the storm rolls in.
“Occasionally we will get a phone call with maybe a kid just hoping for a snow day or just interested in the weather,” Cavanaugh said. “We answer their questions as best we can, but it’s the local superintendents who make the call. We're trying to figure it all out together and get the best forecast out there for the public.”