The top 5 most-asked questions about winter weather

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Photo by: Sandra Futrell

TENNESSEE VALLEY (WHNT) — Snow, ice and brutal cold have had a firm grip on the Tennessee Valley over the last week.

Luckily we’ve avoided major problems, but anytime disruptive weather threatens us, it becomes a big deal.

The goal of this post is to compile the most commonly asked questions surrounding the threat of winter weather, and provide some helpful resources all in one spot.

1) I’m traveling from ________ to __________. How are the roads?

Ice and snow are almost always going to cause problems on area roadways. By now, you know the problematic spots– bridges, overpasses and elevated surfaces. Unfortunately, many roads leading into and through downtown Huntsville and other populated areas are elevated.

The bad part about the weather this week is that it has been so cold for so long, even the smallest amounts of snow or ice can lead to big problems. Check road conditions.

2) How do schools make the decision to cancel or delay?

We can assure you — it’s not an easy decision. Huntsville City Schools caught lots of social media flack after deciding not to cancel classes Wednesday. We found out when there’s a potential for travel issues, the system’s Transportation Coordinator and other members of the district’s’s weather safety team hit the road at 4 a.m. for spot checks.  They did that on Wednesday.

Also, school systems always consult with EMA for the latest information on how temperatures, snow or ice will affect travel and student safety.

Check out part of this district-wide email blast from Madison City Schools Superintendent Dee Fowler regarding the decision to cancel class Friday:

“We did consider opening for a half day.  A half day for us would mean dismissing at 11:30.  It would take two hours to get all of our students home.  That would place busses and drivers on the road when the freezing rain is predicted. Ninety-five percent of me believes that we could probably get a half day accomplished.  But the five percent of doubt has me very worried.  I can live with missing the call and not seeing any snow or ice tomorrow.  But I couldn’t live with missing the call and getting a student driver injured. 

Thank you for your patience and understanding.” –D.F.

It just goes to show you school administrators hearts as well as their brains, factor into the tough decision-making process.

3) Why are winter forecasts so hard to make?

Forecasts involving winter precipitation– especially in the south– are notoriously difficult. Not only is the science behind the forecast challenging, the fact that winter weather can be so impactful here puts even more pressure on us to get it right. There will never be a ‘yes or no’ answer when it comes to winter weather. We provide detailed discussions and easy-to-understand graphics on our weather blog. Keep in mind that winter weather forecasts almost always have a ‘big bust’ potential– a shift of 50 miles can mean the difference between a major ice storm and a miserably cold rain (as we saw Monday).

4) When do I let my faucets drip?

The Building Research Council at the University of Illinois found that pipes are mostly likely to freeze and burst when the temperatures drop into the teens or colder. 20 degrees is considered the “pipe alert” threshold — but as a safeguard, if it is colder than 25 degrees (especially for an extended period) consider letting a faucet in your home drip. Frozen pipes are one of the biggest risks of property damage when the temperature drops.

5) What should I make sure I have in my car if traveling?

Build a disaster kit. A few of the most important items you should include are:

  • Blankets or a sleeping bag
  • Kitty litter, sand or salt for added traction
  • Emergency flares and reflectors
  • Water