Peninsula-area schools remain closed Tuesday as region digs out from snow, ice

Brian Nichols spent most of his snow days at work.

The acting superintendent of Newport News Public Schools drove around the city over the weekend and while schools were closed Monday, assessing the conditions.

In Nichols’ first real week on the job — he took over after Ashby Kilgore retired from the superintendent’s post on Dec. 20 — he had to help make the call to close schools on Thursday, Friday and Monday after a blizzard dumped between 5 and 15 inches of snow across the Peninsula area.

Snowplows and salt trucks had been at work for days on clearing the main roads such as Jefferson Avenue, but Nichols found what most residents had encountered: slippery, icy neighborhoods that were much worse off.

With that in mind, NNPS, along with Gloucester County Public Schools, Hampton City Schools, Isle of Wight County Schools, Mathews County Public Schools, Poquoson City Public Schools, Williamsburg-James City County Schools and York County School Division decided to close school on Tuesday, citing the need to safely ensure that students and staff could get to and from school.

An NNPS public hearing to get input for its superintendent search planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday also was canceled.

“Really the biggest sticking point for us right now is going to be side streets and neighborhoods,” Nichols said while checking out the middle of the city on Monday. A stop by Yates Elementary School, which sits along Warwick Boulevard off Maxwell Lane, showed clear parking lots but worse conditions where school buses might be traveling.

“Your major thoroughfares are in pretty good shape, but I just drove down to the neighborhood where kids who go to Yates would be, and once you go right or left off Maxwell, it’s nothing but ice still,” Nichols said.

Temperatures did climb above freezing and into the low 40s across the area on Monday, melting snow and slush covering roadways. It was not expected to hit below freezing overnight, but the Virginia Department of Transportation warned of possible refreezing across the Hampton Roads area.

Any rain that fell — a 60 percent chance, according to the National Weather Service — shouldn’t lead to more frozen water, NWS meteorologist Bill Sammler said Monday afternoon.

“Road temperatures have warmed a lot more even than we thought,” Sammler said. “They got well over 32 degrees. We don’t really think there’s going to be an issue. We’re not really expecting enough rain to really create any issues or have any ramifications to the snow that might be left on secondary roads or neighborhood roads. Where there’s ice and snow on the road, it’s still going to be slippery.”

Those warming temperatures did allow plant services and custodial staff to clear off sidewalks to prepare when classes do start again, whenever that may be. Nichols said he hadn’t heard of any issues within buildings such as burst pipes or leaking roofs.

Nancy Welch, superintendent of Mathews County Public Schools, said that while main roads have been cleared by VDOT, secondary roads with tree cover are still icy.

“Mathews County Public Schools has been exceptionally fortunate as far as the buildings and facilities are concerned throughout this storm,” Welch said. “All of the buildings were checked today for failed pipes and heating conditions. All three schools checked out just fine. ...

“I was hopeful that the warmer conditions today would clear the majority of the secondary roads. The bus loop at our elementary/middle school complex continues to be an area of concern as well.”

Kellie Goral, spokeswoman for Hampton City Schools, said that icy roads are the division’s biggest concern, and that all school buildings are “up and running and prepared to reopen.”

Welch and Nichols each said that conversations will need to continue about when makeup days should be held, with both assuring that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 15 will remain a holiday.

Tuesday, there should be a high of 46 degrees and sunny skies, with a low around freezing. Wednesday should bring about the same — 45 and sunny — with a low of 39.

Thursday brings a 40 percent chance of rain and a high of 57, with the chance of rain increasing overnight to 70 percent.

Businesses other than schools worked to resume normal schedules, with Hampton Roads Transit returning to all routes of bus, ferry and lightrail service on Tuesday. By the end of the week, Sammler predicted, much of the snow should be gone.

“It’s likely to stay above 40 during the day through at least Friday and Saturday,” he said, “so we should get rid of most if not all of the snow by the time we get to the weekend.”

Visit dailypress.com for an updated cancellations and closings list.

Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951 or on Twitter @byjanehammond.

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