Local schools out cold

With record cold temperatures forecasted for this morning, a slew of school superintendents in the state took the rare step of calling off school a day in advance.

By Thursday night, more than 100 school districts in the state had either called off school for today or delayed classes until temperatures were expected to warm up at least slightly.

“It’s kids’ safety and making sure buses can be on time,” said Hudson Superintendent Randy Bell. “I’m worried with kids even walking to school.”

Bell and other superintendents said when they heard forecasts that called for temperatures between 15 below and 18 below zero this morning with wind-chill factors making it feel like 40 below or 50 below zero, the decision to cancel school was easy.

“If you have children outside, they can get injured very quickly,” said Elaine Cutler, superintendent for the Windham-Pelham Cooperative School School District. “The chance of injury to a child is just too grave.”

Among schools scheduled to be closed Friday are those in Brookline, Derry, Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Merrimack, Nashua, Pelham and Windham. Schools in Amherst, Bedford, Londonderry, Milford and Mont Vernon were scheduled to have delayed openings.

Many superintendents said they were hoping to get by with a delayed opening, but forecasters were not predicting warmer temperatures to arrive soon enough.

One of the first districts to call off school was Derry.

“Under normal circumstances at zero degrees, even 5 below, we’d go to school,” Superintendent John Moody said Thursday afternoon. “Tomorrow is supposed to be the coldest weather in 50 years.”

Thursday’s high temperature in Nashua reached a whopping 5 degrees at about 1 p.m., said AccuWeather meteorologist Jon McGee.

The day’s low temperature was 9 degrees below zero, recorded during the hours of 3 and 4 a.m., he said.

The wind chill factor at that time made it feel like a numbing 18 degrees below zero, McGee said.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service reported a temperature of 4 below zero in the city.

That temperature was expected to keep dropping overnight to about 15 below zero by the early-morning hours, with a wind chill of 40 below, possibly breaking the city’s record low temperature of 10 below zero for the same day in 1984, McGee said.

The temperature was expected to rise throughout today, possibly reaching the mid-teens in the afternoon.

“That’s being optimistic,” McGee said.

The highs on both Saturday and Sunday are expected to reach the high 20s, with possible snow showers on Sunday, he said.

School superintendents said they tried to make the decision to cancel or delay school early to give families time to plan for child care.

The decision to close schools means a four-day weekend for many students. There is no school for most local school districts Monday due to Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day, though Merrimack schools are open that day.

For those who thought the last few days were cold, today is supposed to be the doozy.

“The cold is one thing, but the wind that whips around you is debilitating,” said Marge Chiafery, superintendent in Merrimack. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this.”

On Thursday, Cutler, who moved here last year from Florida, visited Pelham Elementary School and accidentally bumped a curb with her car. The combination of the bump and the frigid temperatures left a three-inch gash in her tire.

Luckily the custodians came to her rescue.

One thing that left her incredulous was the fact that the bus company in her district had to leave its fleet running all night long Wednesday to keep the buses ready for Thursday morning.

In Hudson, three buses broke down Thursday morning. After hearing the forecast and considering the potential effect of the cold on students stranded on buses this morning, Bell wasn’t about to take any chances.

“Those were issues today, they were going to be huge issues tomorrow,” Bell said Thursday afternoon.

“We’re just going to take the cautious route.”

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465 or vanfleetj@telegraph-nh.com. Stephanie Hooper can be reached at 594-6413 or hoopers@telegraph-nh.com.