Deep freeze: Lehigh Valley school districts close amid polar vortex

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On Tuesday, January 29, 2019, frigid temperatures struck the Lehigh Valley. School districts surrounding the Lehigh Valley cancelled classes. (Jillian Wolfson/B&W Staff)

Snow and frigid temperatures recently struck the Lehigh Valley, leaving business districts with less foot traffic and creating dangerous road conditions due to the polar vortex.

Lehigh did not cancel classes on Jan. 29. However, the Allentown School District, the Bethlehem Area School District, the Catasauqua Area School District, the Easton Area School District and many more were closed on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30.

Joseph Roy, superintendent of the Bethlehem School District, said his district was closed both Jan. 29 and Jan. 30. John Reinhart, superintendent of the Easton School District, said Easton schools were closed due to safety concerns of road conditions and frigid temperatures.

Reinhart said one of the challenges when temperatures drop this low is ensuring the students are prepared.

“We have to consider whether or not we have students who arrive at our school who are dressed for such dangerously cold weather, and we really have to monitor that,” Reinhart said.

On cold days, transportation also has to be handled accordingly. Reinhart said intense coordination is involved in making sure children aren’t standing out in the cold weather for too long while waiting for buses. Reinhart said activities are also canceled on days with school closed.

For Roy, there are policies in place to handle the extreme temperatures.

“Our guideline is we’ll do a two-hour delay if there is a wind chill advisory, and then we would close if there was a wind chill warning,” Roy said.

Temperatures that dictate a wind chill advisory are wind chills that could reach as low as minus 15 degrees. In his nine years as superintendent, Roy has only seen a wind chill advisory once. The temperature has to be below minus 30 degrees to have a wind chill warning.

In the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority bus service, or LANTA, handles its transportation with caution under extreme weather conditions.

“If we’re running normal service and the conditions get bad, we’ll go into our snow emergency routes,” said Jarred Schlottman, LANTA’s assistant customer service manager.

The snow emergency routes use only main roads and avoid side streets. For Schlottman, the safety of the passengers is his number one priority.

Customers who are looking to catch a ride with LANTA during extreme low temperatures should check for any schedule changes. If service is suspended, individuals will be given a two-hour notice of cancellation so they can plan accordingly.

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