Archive for January 2011
Published on January 28, 2011 in The Boston Globe, Page B4
-Shared byline with Matt Rocheleau
Two more snow days could require Boston public schools to cut into student vacation time to make up for lost instruction time.
Extending the year into July, however, is not an option because the city’s contract with the teachers union does not allow it, said Matthew Wilder, a School Department spokesman.
Yesterday marked the fourth snow-related school cancellation in the past two weeks. Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said in a statement that “considering it is only January, we may have to begin looking at days already reserved as school vacation days later in the school year, to make up these missed days.”
All public schools in Massachusetts are required to hold 180 days of classes each academic year. School districts account for cancellations by using a 185-day schedule, leaving a five-day cushion at the end of the year.
With no snow days, Hub students would have been dismissed for the summer on June 21. But with yesterday’s cancellation, they will not be able to belt out Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” until June 27, a Monday.
One more cancellation would push the academic year to June 28. If Boston has a sixth cancellation, the city might target vacation time before July 1 for make-ups.
“If we have a couple more, we’re going to have to look at other ways to make these up,” said Wilder. “At this stage, I think everything is on the table.”
State Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester is not granting waivers to the state’s 180-day requirement at this point in the school year, Education Department spokesman JC Considine said yesterday.
“There is still time for districts that have had to close for multiple days to adjust their calendars to ensure that our students do not lose out on valuable learning time,” Considine said.
He said state law does not prohibit districts from extending the year beyond June 30, although collective-bargaining agreements or local ordinances can prevent districts, like Boston, from pushing the academic year into July.”
Before yesterday, Boston schools shut down because of snow on Jan. 12, 13, and 21.
“We are well aware that closing school is not optimal for our families and our students,” Johnson said in announcing the latest cancellation.
“However, the safety of our students,” she said, “must be our first priority at all times.”
Look out the window these days and it almost looks like a classic Currier & Ives image — people working and playing as a thick, pristine snow blankets the landscape.
Of course, the famed lithographers couldn’t have known about the rampaging plows, balky snowblowers, slipsliding cars, and mountainous piles of dirty snow that would one day be part of the scene.
Now those who yearn for the snows of yesteryear can escape to an exhibition of original Currier & Ives lithographs at the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, running Tuesday until May 1.
“The winter scenes tend to be the classic ones that people remember being on calendars and cookie tins,” said the museum’s curator Julia Courtney. “Most of what people recognize are those winter scenes.”
Though Currier and Ives based their business out of New York, both hailed from Massachusetts, and there is a New England feel in many of their prints, said officials at the museum, which currently houses about 900 Currier & Ives prints.
The exhibit will feature 64 original lithograph prints, categorized into several sections, including Introduction to Currier & Ives, Identity, Home, Success, and Progress. For more information on the exhibit, click here.
-Shared byline with Brian Ballou
The main hazards of this year’s unusually copious snows have been on the road so far, with cars slipping and sliding into each other and off the road. But a new menace has reared its head today: the possibility that heavy snow will buckle people’s roofs.
Roof collapses have been reported today in three communities.
In a dramatic incident in Lynn, two men were rescued from their crushed car after the collapse of a parking garage roof.
In Avon, two roofs caved in, a police dispatcher said.
The first call came in at 10:38 a.m. about a roof at 145 Bodwell St., and a second roof collapsed in the area shortly after. Police and fire department responders are currently on scene.
And in West Bridgewater, a section of the roof of a large warehouse collapsed, exposing stacks of industrial carpets used for expositions.
Authorities received a call from a nearby resident and responded to the warehouse at 267 South Main St. at 7:15 a.m. No one was inside the warehouse at the time of the collapse and no one was injured.
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Scott MacLeod said the accumulating snow is a growing problem, and these concerns have only been amplified by the roof collapses.
“It certainly highlights the issues we’re going to continue to see throughout the winter,” he said. “Moving forward, it’s certainly a concern for us and any additional snow is going to be a concern for homeowners and business owners.”
MacLeod said MEMA is working with communities to make sure people know how to take care of their roofs to prevent more incidents from happening. The agency officers a number of tips on its website.
He suggests homeowners get snow rakes so snow can be cleared safely from the ground. Commercial flat roofs should also be shoveled and the roof drains should be cleared. If there is a question of safety while clearing, MacLeod suggests calling a roofing contractor.
The collapse in West Bridgewater occurred at a warehouse that is home to Brede Exposition Services, a subsidiary of Casey and Hayes Movers.
Rich Pretorius, who runs an electrical business out of a neighboring warehouse, said he arrived at the scene soon after police. He said he didn’t know whether either roof had been recently cleaned of snow. “I don’t see that much buildup myself,” he said, looking at the end of the warehouse where the collapse occurred.
The West Bridgewater building inspector is investigating the collapse.
As Massachusetts residents de-ice their driveways and prepare their cars with antifreeze, there’s another precaution some are starting to take after this season’s heavy snow – clearing their roofs of built-up snow.
Though no serious incidents of collapsed roofs or extensive damage have yet been reported to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the increasing snowfall this winter is raising concern, said MEMA spokesman Peter Judge.
More residents have been taking proactive approaches to snow buildup on their roofs this season, said Bill Connell, owner of Connell Roofing in Needham. His company already has jobs lined up to clear snow after tonight’s storm.
“Last year was pretty bad, and there’s a lot more snow a lot earlier in the season out here,” he said.
Connell doesn’t recommend residents try to clear their own roofs, as this can cause more harm than good when not done properly. He said roofs in good condition can handle these conditions.
“If you haven’t had a problem, it’s better off you leave it alone,” he said. “A house is made to hold the weight, but a house that’s been let go is the one that’s going to have problems.”
However, the MEMA website does have an article with suggestions for residents to clear their own roofs, and Judge suggests weight be removed from flat roofs. MEMA has made sure local emergency agencies also have the information posted on their website, and hopes the information will keep homes safe through this next storm.
“That’s sort of what we do here – prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
In what might seem an unusual occurrence in the winter, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection today issued an air quality warning for the Springfield area, saying the atmosphere had been fouled by too many people burning wood.
The warning, which will last until Wednesday morning, means the air is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
“This is not unusual, unfortunately,” said DEP spokesman Joe Ferson. “It does happen in the wintertime with a lot of wood burning in the western part of the state as opposed to coastal areas that have a better mix of air flow.”
Throughout the day, levels of fine air particles have been above average, and an alert was issued around 10 a.m. Conditions are expected to return to a moderate level as precipitation comes in Wednesday and disperses the fine particles. The particles include soot, dust, and smoke, Ferson said.
The particles in the air will not bother most people, said Ann Ottalagana, manager of health promotion and public policy at the American Lung Association in Massachusetts. She and the ALA are mainly concerned about those with pre-existing lung conditions inhaling the particles.
“The dangers come from when people breath in the small particles and they can get deep down into the lungs and aggravate conditions like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),” she said.
Ottalagana, who works out of Springfield where the alert was issued, said another contributing factor could be the town’s location in Pioneer Valley, where particles can easily be trapped.
The Point Webster middle school in Quincy was evacuated this afternoon after a report of a broken pipe, officials said.
MBTA buses were sent to the middle school to take students to Quincy High School while Quincy Fire Department investigates the situation.
A dispatcher said the pipe was old and the move was precautionary. Firefighters are on scene, and no further information is being released at this time.
-Shared byline with Martin Finucane and David Filipov
Here’s a job you don’t want on a day like this. In Athol, where the temperature dropped to 22 below zero overnight, veteran letter carrier John Drozdowski said the weather would not stay him from his appointed rounds.
“Cold is bad, but nor’easters are worse,” he said with a smile as he filled up his car at a Main Street gas station, noting that the forecast for the next two days calls for more snow.
Massachusetts is in the deep freeze this morning, but relief — at least in terms of temperatures — is on the way, with a warmup expected Tuesday that could boost temperatures by 20 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
The thermometer by midafternoon at Logan International Airport crawled up to 13 degrees by midafternoon, up from the 2 below zero recorded overnight. At the Blue Hills Observatory in Milton, the mercury fell to 7 below overnight, the lowest reading in six yearsInterior sections of the state saw even colder temperatures. Weather service instruments recorded temperatures of 20 below in Springfield, 22 below in Orange, which adjoins Athol, and 11 below in Westfield.
Officials warned people to take precautions, such as wearing plenty of layers and limiting their time outside.
Frustrations built this morning due to delays on the MBTA. Delays were reported on subway, commuter rail, and bus lines. T General Richard Davey apologized for the delays and pledged to try to prevent a replay Tuesday morning.
Orange Deputy Fire Chief Paul Sheridan said in a telephone interview, “I personally couldn’t get two cars to start this morning. It was bitterly cold this morning; you could tell it was below zero.”
Around town, he said, there were multiple cars that didn’t start, and school buses, too, struggled – causing a two hour delay, said Sheridan.
In Boston, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating had an influx of calls this morning, said plumber Harry Blazer, who was manning the phones today.
“It’s not too much to do with the cold, even on the coldest day of the year,” he said, attributing the problems to Murphy’s Law.
Most calls are about small problems unrelated to weather, like furnaces not working and old equipment giving out. There haven’t been any calls about frozen pipes yet, but Blazer expects the calls to come once pipes start to thaw and homeowners notice leaks.
At ABCD of Boston, whose fuel assistance program helps about 26,000 households get oil, officials said they were in emergency mode, making sure that people have enough oil.
Our job is to be on the ground and do what we can,” said chief executive John Drew. “I’m very worried, obviously. This kind of cold is deathly.”
The Arctic high pressure that has been causing the frosty temperatures will move offshore tonight and things will warm up — somewhat. The forecasters say today’s highs will be 5 to 15 degrees and overnight lows will range in the single numbers with a few inland locations dropping again to below zero.
By contrast, the mercury on Tuesday is expected to climb to a relatively Caribbean level — to the 20s inland and the 30s closer to the coast. Sunshine will give way to more clouds with occasional light rain or snow showers.
It will be a welcome relief. Back in Athol, Drozdowski was among residents who said it was the coldest they could ever remember. He’s been working as a postman in Athol for 21 years and said the coldest he recalled was 15 below.
“Right now there’s no wind. If you dress warm, you can handle it,” he said.
The next weather challenge to keep in mind: A coastal storm is raising the potential for strong winds, heavy snow or mixed precipitation or both late Wednesday into Thursday, the weather service warned.