Cold realities of winter Missed school days, budget impacts

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Makenzie Thorson making a snow angel
Snow days don’t seem to bother area youngsters. Makenzie Thorson, Elkader. took time last Tuesday to enjoy the near 8-inch snowfall. Makenzie’s parents are Dustin and Jaimie Thorson. Jaimie submitted the photo.
Kelly Tyer, measuring snow
According to this measurement and photo by Kelly Tyer, it snowed nearly 8 inches last Tuesday and 8 more over the weekend.
Elkader Bridge
Angie Marovets shared this photo taken at the entrance to the white water feature with the Clayton County Courthouse visible in the background.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

Next year, I’m paying closer attention to the Farmer’s Almanac. I don’t know how often their long-range weather predictions have been correct since they started publishing in 1818 but they certainly nailed it this winter.

The almanac’s forecast for the current season was released August 21, 2018. It predicted “teeth chattering cold and plentiful snow” for the Midwestern states. When we made it through November, December and into early January without experiencing either, I was ready to thumb my nose at the venerable publication.

And then, January 11, 2019, happened. That’s the date of the first significant snowfall across the state—and once it started snowing, it hasn’t stopped. And as far as “teeth chattering cold” goes, well, new records were set January 29-31 when wind chills reached -62 degrees in Elkader. That shattered the old record of -47 set in January 1996.

Bitter cold and heavy snowfalls have impacted Clayton County residents, students and workers in numerous ways. For example, Central has missed 11 days of school due to adverse weather conditions. The board has voted to use two professional development days (February 18 and April 18) as school days. The school board also voted on the following make-up days: May 28-31 and June 3 and 4. That vote came before classes were cancelled on February 13.

“Weather calls aren’t easy or fun for any of us,” said Central Superintendent Nick Trenkamp. “We want our kids and staff here but we also want them here safely. I’d much rather go into June than have anyone get injured or killed.”
Parents always have the final say on whether to send their kids to school or not,” he continued. “If they believe it is unsafe to come to school, simply call us and their kids will be excused.”

Trenkamp noted that weather cancellations have created an issue with sports schedules. “Winter sports and events have been tough with so many games cancelled and not enough days to make them up before playoffs begin,” he said. “While this is a challenge, all schools are in a similar situation.”

Also significantly impacted by the weather are the crews that clean the streets. Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert uses a three-to-five year average to determine winter costs. Even with all her planning, the city is running $1,500 over budget in the supplies/parts line item due to unexpected snowplow repairs. The City currently has a good supply of salt and sand, though Cowsert points out that “spring months are good for ice storms, so we’ll see!”

Clayton County Engineer Rafe Koopman also reports that supplies are holding out. He usually contracts for enough salt to cover a worst-case scenario hoping to have a surplus. “We will not have much left over this year, however,” he said.
The powdery snow that’s fallen across the county coupled with high winds that create blowing and drifting has created challenges for Koopman’s crews.

“We’ll go out for a couple of hours and make progress on clearing the roads, and then the weather changes and we are back at square one,” he said. “And then we wake up the next morning and it’s like we haven’t done a thing.”

The budget is getting stretched thin, Koopman added, and if these weather events continue, spring maintenance could be impacted.

Both Koopman and Cowsert praised the public’s efforts in helping crews get their work done.

“Residents have been working well with us on not parking on the streets,” Cowsert said. “It is important to remember that every season is different and every snow is different. Some are light and easy to move, some are heavy and it takes longer to move, some have a combo of ice and snow and those are difficult because even the snowplows have problems not sliding.”

County businesses and services were impacted by the bitter cold weather and snow. During the January 29-21 polar vortex, a handful of Elkader business closed for a day or two. The EARL transportation service was suspended, and the Elkader meal site and meal delivery was halted.

“We don’t like closing our doors because it means we won’t make any money that day,” one business owner said. “But personal safety is more important.”

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