By unanimous decree, area school children approve of school officials' decisions to close schools.
By 9:45am Tuesday, about four and a half percent of Dominion's Albemarle customers were powerless.
With New York City subways and boroughs flooded, millions without power and at least 16 people dead, no one's saying Frankenstorm Sandy wasn't a terrifying monster weather event– for the northeast. But here in Charlottesville and Albemarle, less than two inches of rain fell over 48 hours, not a single road closure resulted from the storm, and power outages were limited to a pocket of households mostly in the Crozet area. And yet county and city public schools were closed Tuesday for the second day. Even UVA, generally known for its tough-it-out, hold-classes-no matter-what approach to weather, cancelled classes two days straight. What gives?
"Our primary consideration is impact on transporting kids to school on buses and on parents who drive," says County schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita, noting that County buses drive 14,000 miles a day, many of them on winding, heavily wooded country roads. School officials, Giaramita says, listened to weather forecasts calling for high winds and heavy rain on Monday into Tuesday and decided to err on the side of caution.
"The calendar has seven days built into it that are available for use as make-up days," he explains. "That's another factor that leads you to make a decision on side of safety."
The decision process was the same in Charlottesville, according to a statement from Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins who cites the ominous weather forecasts along with communication from Governor Bob McDonnell's office urging school officials "to make early preparations and decisions."
"Extreme caution was warranted," says Atkins, "since our usual means of preparation such as treating roads and watching the advance of snow or ice were not available."
Private schools, too, had to make decisions. St. Anne's-Belfield closed on Monday and Tuesday, but out in Crozet, Field School, a boys' middle school, was open on Monday and school head Todd Barnett says he rarely closes– "five times in five years," he notes. But when power at the school went out on Monday night, Barnett says, he decided to close Tuesday. "It would have been unnecessarily complicated," he says, noting that school will be back in session with or without power on Wednesday.
UVA's acting spokesperson, McGregor McCance, says the unknown and potentially severe impact of the storm, coupled with Governor Bob McDonnell's ordered closure of executive agencies on Monday and Tuesday, influenced President Teresa Sullivan's decision to cancel classes.
"There was a lot of discussion about the severity of storm, the likelihood of downed limbs, concern about student safety, faculty and staff safety," says McCance.
Sullivan, McCance says, also cited the public school closures as a factor in her decision since if UVA remained open it would cause a "hardship for employees that have kids."
According to State Climatologist Jerry Stenger, meteorologists simply couldn't predict the impact of the storm on localities at its outer edge.
"I figured the worst would come sometime after 5pm Monday and then partly into the night and then things would start to let up as things went into the day today," said Stenger on Tuesday, who also notes that Hurricane Sandy was unlike other storms in that its "degree of impact was north-south rather than east-west."
"As one went north," he says, "one found higher winds and greater mass of rainfall."
Stenger says the size of the storm, and its unpredictability, left meteorologists and school officials in a tough situation, and he thinks they made the right call even if in hindsight, it looked silly to have schools closed when there was little more than drizzle.
"It's the forecaster's dilemma," says Stenger. "You're going to be wrong a lot, but which way are you going to be wrong? Do you want people laughing at you– or bodies being stacked like cordwood?"
Measured rainfall at the Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Airport from Sunday through Tuesday measured just 1.57 inches, and at the McCormick Observatory, only 1.3 inches fell. The storm caused no power outages in Charlottesville, and in Albemarle, Dominion Virginia Power reported 1,878 outages of its 40,884 Albemarle County customers on Tuesday morning, a number that had shrunk to 954 by 2pm.
But if there were some parents frustrated by the school cancellation for a storm that never materialized, there is another demographic that expresses nearly 100 percent support for school officials' decisions: students.
"They definitely did the right thing," says a local 8th grader, who interrupted a morning Xbox marathon long enough to give a brief interview to a Hook reporter, who is also his mother.
"It's all about our safety," he says. "They should probably close tomorrow, too."