Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 23, 2013

Braving the ‘bitter’ cold

Plunging temperatures prompt changes in normal routine

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Howard Elementary School Principal Jeaniene Garrison walked the few feet from her car to her office Tuesday morning and already could feel her fingers going numb.

“I could feel the bitterness,” she said. “I dropped one of my gloves and ... wow.”

Temperatures in Kokomo plunged into the single digits Tuesday. And wind chill factors fell as low as 16 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

The extreme temperatures prompted all area schools to delay classes by two hours.

While such delays are uncommon, school administrators said they welcomed it this morning.

“When it dips down to zero degrees and below, you see a lot of delays,” said Western Primary School Principal Steve Arthur. “People realize how dangerous it is for the kids.”

No one wants their children waiting for the bus in the dark when the temperatures are so extreme, Arthur said.

The National Weather Service reported temperatures as low as 3 degrees in Kokomo — about the time students would have been waiting for the bus. With the wind chill factored in, though, it actually felt like it was 16 degrees below zero.

There isn’t a certain temperature that automatically prompts a delay in Kokomo-Center Schools, said Dave Barnes, director of communications for the district.

The superintendent takes a close look at the temperature and wind chill and consults with other schools in the area and across the state.

“It’s always a tough decision, but if we make an error, we want to make it on the side of student safety,” Barnes said.

The last temperature-related delay in the district was at least two years ago, Barnes said.

Even with the delay, students Tuesday had to brave the cold while they waited for buses.

By 10 a.m., the air only had warmed to 7 degrees in Kokomo, and it still felt like it was minus-10 degrees outside.

Barnes said students have to wait about five or 10 minutes at their bus stops.

Tuesday, many sought refuge inside vehicles or nearby homes, though.

“So many of our parents will drive their students to the bus stop when it’s this cold and let them wait in the vehicle,” Barnes said. “We sure appreciate that.”

Principals also make adjustments in their school buildings when cold weather strikes.

Most area elementary schools have moved recess inside temporarily.

Northwestern Elementary School Principal Ron Owings sent a notice to his teachers Tuesday forbidding them from taking their classes outside.

“I didn’t want anyone thinking it was a good idea to head outside,” Owings said. “You can’t put students at risk with frost bite hitting in a matter of minutes.”

One class went outside Monday, he said, when temperatures topped out at 16 degrees.

Tuesday was just too cold, he said.

It’s tough moving recess inside, because students really enjoy getting the fresh air, he said.

Garrison agreed.

Even in Tuesday’s cold, students were asking to go outside for recess.

“They think they’re Superman,” she said with a laugh.

She noticed some students still weren’t dressed for the weather either. Inevitably, kids forget coats or lose hats and gloves, she said.

The school keeps a box full of winter weather accessories for students in need.

Kids occasionally forget their coats at Pettit Park Elementary School, too, Principal Tenecia Helmberger said.

The teachers are very conscientious about it, though. If they see students without coats, they notify parents, Helmberger said.

And most kids are excited to wear their hats and gloves.

Right before Christmas, St. Joseph Hospital and Four Community donated fun hats and gloves for every student at the school.

“They wear them every day,” Helmberger said.

Arthur said he knew it was bitter cold out when he saw his students getting off the bus Tuesday.

“I didn’t see one student without a coat this morning,” he said.