DeKALB – Area school superintendents are keeping an eye on the extreme cold forecast for when students are set to return to class Monday, and Northern Illinois University meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste warns of some potentially dangerous road conditions Friday afternoon into Saturday.
“Strong south-to-southwest winds, gusting up to 35 mph this evening and into mid-morning on Saturday, coupled with the very powdery, dry snow already on the ground will create near ground-blizzard conditions in open, rural areas,” Sebenste said.
“In town, in DeKalb and Sycamore, it won’t be bad, but the rural areas will be difficult,” Sebenste said.
Although meteorologists still are unsure just how far temperatures will fall, Sebenste said one determining factor will be how much snow falls over the weekend as the Arctic cold front moves through.
“The problem we’ll see is twofold,” Sebenste said. “No. 1 is the coldest air mass we’ve seen in about 18 years here, accompanied by strong northwest winds.”
Temperatures are expected to be in the range of minus 15 to minus 20, with wind chills driving the mercury to minus 30 to minus 45.
“We’ll crawl out of the deep freeze Tuesday night into Wednesday, when southerly winds return to bring in slightly warmer air,” Sebenste said.
He predicted that temperatures should be in the more seasonable 20s by the end of the week.
Although they don’t want to make the call to close school too early, area superintendents are indicating it’s a possibility.
“People already are wondering what we’re going to do, but we don’t want to make the call too early,” said DeKalb Superintendent Jim Briscoe. “Parents should know we are fully aware of the forecast, the superintendents are in communication with each other and we’ll make a good decision.”
Genoa-Kingston Superintendent Joe Burgess agreed they are looking out for student safety.
“I would advise parents to make plans; prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Burgess said.
Sycamore Superintendent Kathy Countryman said district staff will work through the weekend to be ready for the return of students.
They said they would be in contact through the weekend and make a decision Sunday. Officials urged parents to watch district websites and social media pages, as well as to look for district emails and phone calls.
Student safety is the primary concern for transportation departments, as well. First Student location manager Catherine Welch said the challenges are huge for the fleet of 96 buses that transport DeKalb students.
“Just like any vehicle, the colder the temperature, the harder they are to start,” Welch said. “The diesel fuel is graded for cold weather, but we have to think about oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid and airbrake lines.
Welch said the company employs a “cold start team” that removes snow and starts the buses early to have them ready for the drivers.
“All I can say is, if the high is 14 below, we’ll make a good decision,” Briscoe said.
The Clinton Township Public Library in Waterman will not have its regularly-scheduled board meeting Monday. The library will close at 7 p.m. Monday.