Snowstorm closes local schools as temperatures plummet into deepfreeze

Blizzard-like snow conditions forced some schools in Falher and Donnelly to send students home early last Thursday, Jan. 24.
Students at G.P Vanier junior/senior high school in Donnelly, Ecole Routhier school and Ecole Heritage school in Falher were sent home at 11:30 a.m. thanks to heavy snow.
Under policy of the High Prairie School Division No.48, the decision to close the schools for transportation is made in consultation with Supervisor of Transportation Gordon Jessome and school principals, he said.
“If we feel it’s going to get worse, we send out the Municipal District (works), and we make the decision to close the schools before the roads get too bad,” said Jessome. “It’s for the safety of the students.”
Transportation is key for the local schools, with about 750 students bussed, he said. Combined, the two schools enroll about 820.
This is the first time this winter that snow has caused the school division to close the schools for snow, said Jessome.
Prior to last Thursday, residents have generally been coping quite comfortably and appropriately with the bitter bone-chilling temperatures and snow.
Police, schools, and municipal maintenance crews have experienced virtually no major problems with the snow and deep-freeze temperatures.
“We’ve been very lucky we haven’t had any (weather-related) traffic accidents,” McLennan RCMP detachment Sgt. Lewis Kuntz said Thursday morning.
However, a majority of accidents involve animals on the road, he said, along with driver fatigue during daylight hours.
“People are again reminded to slow down at night,” said Kuntz.
With the cold winters, people are playing it safe.
“People have been using common sense,” said Kuntz. “They’re dressing warmly and driving more cautiously.”
This cold and snowy weather also seems to keep people indoors more and the crime rate down, he added.
Schools are also taking precautions for student safety.
“This week, we have chosen not to send the students outside (for recess and lunch) because we don’t want to jeopardize their safety and health,” Ecole Routhier principal Antoinette Romanchuk told the Express in an interview Jan. 23.
Elementary school students are being kept inside during very cold temperatures
“It’s been bitterly cold and it’s hard to monitor that all students are dressed warmly,” said Romanchuk, now in her fourth year at the Falher school. “The well-being of students is foremost.”
During cold weather, students taking a later bus are urged to remain in the school and wait for their ride, she said.
Despite last week, she said this has been a relatively mild winter.
“Usually we miss three to four days because of extremely cold weather and snow,” said Romanchuk, serving in the midst of 35 years with the High Prairie School Division.
Recent frigid temperatures are not rare for the Smoky River region at this time of year, according to Environment Canada in Edmonton.
“The third week in January is normally the coldest,” said Dan Kulak, warning preparedness meteorologist.
Normal temperatures for Peace River range from highs of -18 Celsius and lows of -24 C., which he said would be similar to the local area.
While the coldest was -36 C. last Wednesday morning, temperatures last week hovered between -20 C. and -27 C., he said.
“It’s certainly cold,” said Kulak. “Temperatures are considerably below normal, but not near record.”
However, from recent forecasts, milder temperatures can be expected this week. Over the weekend the temperatures dipped to as low as -40 Celsius.

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