While city and county crews struggle to clear streets as snow and freezing rain continue to hit the Tri-City area, school district officials have been roaming the streets before dawn to decide whether to close school.
So far, however, Mother Nature has been getting the upper hand.
Tuesday's storm caused Hanford and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to send workers home early, and city and county offices were closed early. The three school districts and CBC also canceled all evening activities Tuesday.
And as freezing rain fell throughout the day, Tri-City, Ki-Be, Prosser, North Franklin, Tri-City Junior Academy, Columbia and Paterson school districts decided to start school two hours later today. Kindergarten classes were canceled in Richland and Kennewick.
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Tri-City traffic has kept flowing through the storm, as public works crews have been putting in 12-hour shifts plowing snow and spreading deicer and sand.
Kennewick started putting de-icer on the road two days before the first snowstorm hit Nov. 22, said Ken Nelson, assistant public works director. He said the city has six trucks to cover the city's 640 miles of road, and those have been filled with a mixture of salt and sand.
Road crews faced problems right away because the ground wasn't frozen when the first storm hit, he said.
"As the snow covered the streets and temperatures dropped, the moist snow below froze and bonded to the roadway, making it difficult and in most cases impossible for our snow plows to remove it," Nelson said in an e-mail.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Pasco public works crews had spread 300 tons of sand combined with deicer on the city's streets, and "today we're out pushing slush off before it freezes," said Jess Greenough, Pasco's field division manager.
Greenough said Pasco uses a road grader to break up ice on streets, but workers have had a tough time because the bad weather has continued.
"We get 8 inches (of snow) and get everything clean, and then it snows again and we have to start all over," he said.
Benton County has put 1,500 tons of sand on the more than 800 miles the county covers, according to County Engineer Malcom Dowie.
Richland officials were not available Tuesday to provide details on the city's efforts, but road crews have been keeping main roads open.
Meanwhile, school officials are using a no-frills approach in deciding if roads are safe enough for students to get to class: They test-drive the roads in the early morning hours.
School transportation managers in the Tri-Cities start their workdays around 3 a.m. when ice is in the forecast, said Lorraine Cooper, Kennewick School District spokeswoman.
"They're driving the streets, especially on hills, to determine whether buses can navigate safely," she said.
For K-12 schools, that means checking neighborhood streets. But for Columbia Basin College the radius extends out farther.
"I'm on the road by 3:30 (a.m.) and drive 30 to 60 miles," said Bill Saraceno, the college's senior vice president for administration. "I go onto (Interstates) 82 and 182, (Highways) 240 and (U.S.) 395 and try several main exits."
After the test drives, the transportation managers contact the superintendents -- or in CBC's case, the president -- and share what they experienced. A decision on whether to open schools on time, or at all, is reached by 4:30 a.m. and relayed to students and parents through the media and each institution's website.
The first option is a two-hour delay, Cooper said.
"In some cases, temperatures rise in those two hours," she said. "If not that, then at least the delay allows light to come up, which makes travel less hazardous."
For the K-12 schools, announcing a closure doesn't always mean nobody will show up.
"We have students that, even if we call for closure, they get dropped off without having had breakfast," Cooper said. "We still have to provide a warm and safe place."
WSU Tri-Cities has not closed because of weather, but has a "snowman" icon on its www.tricity.wsu.edu website home page that provides weather alerts. The website notes the college closes in only the most extreme weather, however.
And for CBC, a decision to close down usually gets criticized more than one to stay open. "I'm always surprised how many people complain when we close," Saraceno said.
Worsening conditions during the day Tuesday prompted some outlying school districts to change plans during the day and send kids home early.
Parents in the North Franklin School District were notified mid-day that their children would be let go at 1:30 p.m.
"We made calls to every home," said Susan Syrie, executive assistant to North Franklin's superintendent. "We made every attempt to get ahold of parents."
Ultimately, the weather forecast was such that it seemed unsafe to keep students until the late afternoon, Syrie said.
Sending kids home early wouldn't be possible in larger districts.
"There'd have to be extreme circumstances to try to tell the parents of 15,000 kids that they're coming home early," said Leslee Caul, Pasco schools spokeswoman.
Her boss went one step further: "Never say never, but I can't think of any circumstance where we would send students home early," said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill. "They're safer in school and one of the safest vehicles to be in (on snowy roads) is a school bus."
The weather forecast Tuesday evening was calling for more freezing rain and snow overnight and today, with chances of snow tapering off beginning Friday.