With video: Early-morning drive is major factor when Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti area school districts decide on snow days
While most students are asleep and hoping they’ll wake up to news of a snow day, Tom Moore is out driving on Ann Arbor's roads to help make that decision.
Ultimately, district superintendents have the final say on whether school will go ahead on snowy mornings. But Moore, the director of transportation for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, is the man on the ground for Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools.
On days when snowy conditions put school in doubt, Moore drives from his home in Pinckney to the Ann Arbor Public Schools bus yard, arriving at about 3 a.m. He’ll drive down many Ann Arbor streets — some main roads and some dirt roads — to determine the conditions.
“I’m looking for the most challenging roads that we have here,” he said. “I want to hit some dirt roads, and I’ll pop into subdivisions here and there.”
Early Wednesday morning, Moore made his usual one-hour trip around the area, although he was fairly certain school would go ahead. He said he’ll usually drive around in his car because if cars can get through the snow, “we can get buses through” but he chose to make the trek in a school bus Wednesday.
Moore simulated many situations bus drivers would encounter while driving their routes, including starting from a dead stop on the uphill slope of a hill. The conditions on Wednesday were mostly fine, and the bus had no issues getting up hills.
“I want to make sure I’m getting traction from a standstill, and I will stop on the upside of a hill just for that challenge,” he said. “I want to be able to mimic the worst conditions that are out there where there might be a student stop.”
He said the roads, despite being sloppy, were easily traveled because the snow was relatively light and fluffy.
“It doesn’t look like the plows have been out here, it’s just beat down by last evening’s traffic,” Moore said of the snow on a dirt road.
Moore said he can usually tell within 15 minutes of starting to drive around whether school will be canceled.
He said he keeps in contact with all three superintendents of the WISD busing consortium and about 15 area transportation officials all over southeast Michigan to judge what they’re recommending for their districts.
“When you’re out driving and you’re not comfortable with it, then you start talking to other district supervisors to see if they’re experiencing the same thing,” he said. “You’ll make the recommendation to the superintendent that, yeah, we will have problems, we will get stuck and, again, it is their decision. You give them your opinion and tell them what other people are saying. If you’re having that experience, other districts are experiencing them, too.”