Winter storm brushes valley, closes schools

PARKERSBURG – Fifty of West Virginia’s 55 county school systems closed Thursday after a winter storm moved northwest, covering most of the state.

The storm has been wreaking havoc in the South this week, burying normally snow-free areas under several inches of ice and snow. Area forecasters predicted the storm would remain south of the Mid-Ohio Valley, but local officials say the storm turned during the early-morning hours, leading many school systems to close.

“They didn’t predict it to be this bad,” said Mike Fling, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools. “We thought we were going to be safe and clear, but the storm started making this counter-clockwise motion and we had a lot more snow than they thought.”

Locally, Wood, Wirt, Pleasants, Ritchie, Jackson, Roane, Doddridge, Calhoun and Tyler counties closed Thursday morning, though private schools in Wood County remained open.

In Ohio, most Washington County School systems, including Belpre and Marietta city schools, operated on a two-hour delay.

Fling said portions of Wood County were hit harder than others, so a relatively clean commute in Parkersburg wasn’t indicative of road conditions in Rockport.

“The southern and eastern parts of the county were affected significantly worse,” he said. “We don’t have the system set up to only close part of the county.”

Fling said district officials begin driving routes to determine road conditions early in the morning, well before buses are on the roads. Those officials then report back to him. He also consults with state and national weather services and other school districts to determine how safe it will be to transport students.

About half of Wood County’s more than 13,000 students use district transportation, but a significant portion of students also walk to school and have to be considered when it comes to bitter cold temperatures or unsafe walking conditions.

Fling said Thursday’s decision to close schools came later than normal after officials had already announced a two-hour delay.

“Our concern was, if this doesn’t stop, are we going to be able to get the kids home?” he said. “At that point we didn’t know what the storm was going to do.”

Thursday marked the 13th day missed this school year due to bad weather. The district announced Wednesday evening it would turn Monday and April 21 into instructional days to try and make up for some of the lost days. In March the Wood County Board of Education is expected to extend the school year through June 10.