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School in severe weather: Yes or no?Posted Friday, January 11, 2008, at 9:53 AM
Bedford County schools closed at 2:30 p.m. Thursday -- 30 minutes or so early for some schools -- as we were under a tornado watch and warnings had been issued for Maury and Williamson counties due to one particular storm.
At least two persons in the Times-Gazette office were concerned about their children returning to locked homes. I imagine there were similar concerns elsewhere.
I was watching the Maury-Williamson storm on radar. No tornado actually touched down in the warned areas, but the radar image looked ominous.
But: That storm was headed northeast, away from us. The part of the squall line headed for our area never carried any warnings -- although electricity went out due to lightning at Liberty School, and damage was reported in Tullahoma and Lincoln County from a storm for which no warning was issued.
We discussed those dismissals in the T-G newsroom. Several of us agreed that it's better to keep students in well-built school buildings rather than put them on the streets or in less strongly-built homes with a storm approaching.
This isn't meant as criticism of decisions made by personnel at Bedford County Schools' central office or individual schools. But what do you think of early closings for wind, as opposed to snow?
I'd also like to see more attention paid to including storm-safe areas in future new schools. Those should be a key part of construction plans.
Schools have been hit while occupied at least twice that I can remember. I was in the third-floor, heavily-windowed lunchroom of the old Central High on Elm Street when strong winds -- possibly a small tornado -- hit on a spring day in, I think, 1975. Glass flew everywhere. Girls screamed and dived under tables. Guys just stared at the flying glass. Bedford County Medical Center's roof was damaged and a lot of minor wind damage occurred in the Blue Ribbon Parkway area, indicating the storm followed a path such as a tornado might take. Schools were closed early that day; it seems like 1 p.m. or so.
And part of the roof of today's Central High gym was peeled off during a wrestling tournament in the early 1980s.
That's two hits within a 10-year period, and it could happen again. That's proof enough that precautions and preparation are necessary.
Final food for thought: A school in Caledonia, Miss., was struck by a tornado Thursday. A bus was supposedly thrown onto the building's roof. Not a pleasant thought...
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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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