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Beyond the Cave

Winter Weather is Upon Us

Icy roads? Snowy weather conditions? What exactly constitutes a “late start” delay or a snow day, and how does this impact the school community?

Beyond the Cave gained information on the protocols SHS takes when winter weather strikes. Superintendent Merrill shared the steps he and the Director of Maintenance and Transportation, Gilbert Hammerbeck, take in order to determine the call of a delayed school start time or a true “snow day” or rather, a school cancellation.

Hammerbeck and his staff first survey Tuolumne Road to determine the road conditions. They typically look at roads nearest to school.

“We first look at Tuolumne Road right in front of campus, to see if there is ice on it or snow on it. We don’t really look at Twain Harte or above, because most of our students, if they live there, they understand that is the community that does get snow,” stated Mr. Merrill.

Hammerbeck is sent out early on any given morning in question. Hammerbeck also connects with the Sonora Maintenance Director as well.

“The two of them share the whole county, they look at the roads because they are responsible for all buses. They want to make sure trees or limbs are not hanging low or full of snow—especially if buses couldn’t pass by. [They also look at] if cars skidded off the road. They look to see if they [the roads] had been plowed or salted or sanded,” explained Mr. Merrill.

Hammerbeck and Mr. Merrill communicate between approximately 4:30 A.M. and 5:00 A.M. to discuss what the best decision for that day is: a regular day, a delay, or a cancellation.

BTC asked what determines a delay versus a snow day.

“We have to look at what the weather looks like when school is about to start. What does the weather forecast look like at 10:00 A.M.? Or if it is about to get heavy [snow] right at dismissal time, we don’t want students to get stuck here either,” said Mr. Merrill.

In addition to the bus routes being able to safely navigate the roads, Mr. Merrill is also concerned about student drivers’ safety.

“My biggest fear is student drivers. Most of our student drivers are relatively new to driving and many have two-wheel-drive cars, and not four-wheel-drive cars. Most think, ‘Well, I know how to drive’ and you see what happens.”

— Mr. Merrill

BTC also asked Mr. Merrill how he plans to keep students safe when walkways and common areas are still relatively icy.

“Well, I try to encourage kids not to ice skate. I know it is fun, but I still need to keep students safe. We use ice melt, it looks like a rock salt, that helps to melt the ice faster,” shared Mr. Merrill.

When asked how he feels about snow and winter weather, Mr. Merrill shared he loves the snow, as long as the snow is above 5000 ft.

“I think it is fabulous up there. I love the rain too, we need it. But we also have really cold snaps, it’s just where we live. We live in such a beautiful place, but we have to prepare for [the weather],” said Mr. Merrill.

Additionally, bus driver Nick Baker, who has many years of experience driving a bus in snowy weather, was interviewed and gave his opinion on the inclement weather.

“Anytime you have steep grades, we have to stop and start the bus on a grade, we have places on our routes that we do not go through [because] it is too dangerous to risk, there are some parts in Twain Harte, Mi-Wuk, and Leisure Drive because mostly it’s to keep us off steep grades and off of unplowed roads,” said Mr.Baker.

This is knowledge that most people do not know about and all the hard work that many bus drivers in Tuolumne County have to prepare for in snowy weather.

“After many years of driving, you don’t get scared anymore, although you make sure that all the kids are safe. We always make sure that the bus drivers know that it doesn’t matter when they get to school, just as long as we arrive safely,” stated Baker.

Be sure to look at the following resources during inclement weather.
Resources for information: local radio stations/websites:
KVML 1450 AM
KZSQ 92.7 FM
KKBN 93.5 FM
mymotherlode.com (school delays tab)
Summerville Union High School Facebook page
Connections Visual and Performing Arts Facebook page

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Isis Shavers
Isis Shavers, Reporter
Lexie Melendez
Lexie Melendez, Reporter
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