Sampson County residents felt as if they were in a deep freeze Tuesday morning when they stepped outside for the first time, with temperatures barely in the teens and a wind chill that made it feel even more frigid.
But even though forecasters are calling for a near double in today’s temperature — from a frosty 28 to above 40 — the bone-chilling low of 18 Tuesday night was expected to stick around through the early morning, forcing school officials in both Clinton City and Sampson County to call for yet another two-hour delay in school for students and staff.
Safety was cited as the primarily reason for the second day of delays followed closely by an extended opportunity for school transportation workers to ensure buses were able to crank, stop arms were unthawed and batteries were in good working condition before youngsters hopped aboard for the ride to school.
“It’s always better to use caution,” said transportation director Herb Sanderson Tuesday afternoon. “The delay we had today (Tuesday) did the trick. We had some problems, but we were able to get them all resolved before time to pick up students, something we couldn’t have done without the delay.”
Sanderson said transportation crews were at the garage Tuesday morning at 5:30, cranking buses and working to resolve any problems the bitterly cold temperatures had caused. For drivers who had their buses at home, the mandate was a 7 a.m. start to ensure the same types of things were done before picking up students.
The measures, he said, proved beneficial. “We had 11 buses that had some type of issue this morning (Tuesday), but we were very fortunate to have the problems all fixed well before we had to start picking up students.”
Sanderson said frigid temperatures wreaked havoc on old, diesel engine buses. “Roughly 52 percent of our buses are 14 years old or older, and they are diesel. It’s harder for them to withstand the cold. When it gets 25 degrees or below, it’s a real problem.”
Condensation blocking the air tank and air lines, frozen stop arms, dead batteries and other mechanical failures are all issues that can and often do occur when the temperatures drop, things that, while unavoidable, are far easier to fix as the day warms up.
“And it proves far safer for our children, that’s always our first priority,” Sanderson said.
While the buses were an issue Tuesday and likely first thing today, the roads were not a problem, according to Department of Transportation officials.
Lin Reynolds, district engineer, said there were no problems on Sampson roadways because of the freezing temperatures. “We had the cold weather, but we didn’t have any rain or snow to contend with. With no moisture, there were no problems,” he stressed.
Despite the bitter cold, hospital officials, too, said there were no weather-related issues Tuesday.
According to Kristy Bland, marketing and community relations director at Sampson Regional, the emergency room director at SRMC said they had not seen patients throughout the day Tuesday with problems due to the cold temperatures, a sign that most people heeded warnings to stay indoors unless they absolutely had to get out.
But folks won’t have to be couped up all that long, forecasters say, noting that the bitter chill isn’t expected to continue, with temperatures returning to normal or even above normal temperatures by the weekend.
Today’s forecast is for highs in the upper 40s and lows near 20; Thursday is partly cloudy with a high around 50 and a low of 25; and Friday is partly cloudy with a high of 55 and a low in the mid-to-upper 30s.