What are weather zones? Where do they exist? Why do they exist? How are they used? When are they used? Who has created them?
Weather zones are specific geographical areas of a county that experiences different weather than the rest of the county. They exist in only four counties in Maryland. They exist in Allegany, Washington, Baltimore, and Frederick Counties. They are used to allow a school system to make a different recommendation for the weather zone area than the recommendation for the rest of the county. They have been used only during winter months and as a rule are rarely used. The Transportation Department of the four school systems mentioned above have created specific boundary lines for their weather zones which are school boundary lines.
Allegany County has a weather zone that encompasses the Frostburg, George’s Creek area. This part of Allegany County has significant elevation differences and actually averages more than double the amount of snow for the rest of the county.
The Allegany zone has a pure feeder system in that there is one high school, two middle and five elementary schools. All of the middle schools and elementary schools are within the one high school boundary lines and the five elementary schools feed into the two middle schools and the two middle schools feed into the one high school one hundred percent.
The Allegany zone is the most used of the four. Over the past twenty years they have closed the zone fifty percent more than the rest of the county and they have delayed school two hundred and fifty percent more than the rest of the county. A typical winter is that Allegany County would close school 8 days and the Frostburg zone 12 times and delay the county 10 days and the Frostburg zone 25 time.
When Allegany closes the zone, the Career & Tech students and the regional special education students do not go to those programs but the rest of the county does attend school. The alternative school for Allegany County is located in the zone and no one attends from anywhere in the county when the zone is closed. Their zone allows them to close the zone containing one third of the students in the county while two thirds go to school.
Logistical issues exist when the zone is two hours late and the remaining county is on time. Some buses are late and some Special Education buses can not make the time frame and several do not run at all.
Washington County has two weather zones. The Hancock area and the Cascade elementary area. The Cascade zone is made up of one elementary school due to the severity of the weather conditions on top of their highest point near the Camp David area.
When they close the Cascade zone none of the students residing in that elementary boundary attend school including the middle and high school students. Special education students living in the Cascade zone would not attend school outside the zone. When the Cascade zone is two hours late and the rest of the county is on time there are logistical problems to the point that four extra buses have to be added to assure that students arrive on time.
Washington County Hancock zone is at the Western most part of the county. It includes Hancock High, Hancock Middle and Hancock Elementary schools all within the Hancock High school boundary lines. It is a pure feeder zone in that Hancock Elementary sends one hundred percent to Hancock Middle and Hancock Middle sends one hundred percent to Hancock High School. No other schools are in the Hancock zone.
Special education students in the Hancock area attending regional centers outside the Hancock zone do not attend when the zone is closed. Career & Tech students do not attend when the zone is closed. However, when the zone is two hours late and the rest of the county is on time they do go to school two hours late. There are some logistical problems associated with two hours late.
Contractors are expected to traverse the roads in the zone when the area is closed/delayed because most still travel over the rest of the county in order to complete their runs that are for the non-zone schools.
The Cascade zone was used only once during the 2009-2010 winter. The Hancock zone historically is only used a couple of times each year.
Frederick County has a weather zone in their most mountainous area that encompasses Catoctin High and Middletown High which are located in the Catoctin Mountain range. The schools that are within the boundary lines of those two high schools constitute the weather zone.
If the Frederick zone is closed the students attending regional special education, magnet schools or the Career & Tech do not go to school. If the zone is two hours late and the rest of the county goes on time the zone goes in two hours late. There are logistical problems to get buses back to the zone area and still get to their other non-zone schools on time.
Buses parked in a closed zone are still required to complete their routes in the non-zone even though they travel the roads in the closed zone.
The Frederick zone was used three times this winter and zero times last year. The weather zone was re-established last year after not being considered a zone for several years.
There are dedicated buses for regular education runs for the two zones. Special education routes and shuttle routes, due to the lack of sufficient number of buses available, causes some routes not to be run when the zone is delayed. Substitute bus drivers and assistants are added if available.
Baltimore County has a weather zone that is within the Hereford High School boundary lines. It includes Hereford High, Hereford Middle, Prettyboy Elementary, Fourth District Elementary, Fifth District Elementary, Sparks Elementary and Jacksonville Elementary. It was a pure feeder system when it was established. Beginning in 1995 Jacksonville Elementary does not feed one hundred per cent into Hereford Middle and Hereford High Schools.
The Hereford zone covers the entire northern part of Baltimore County from the Pennsylvania line to the Carroll County and Harford County lines. It has seven schools in it out of the one hundred and seventy two schools. There are one hundred and sixty five schools not in the Herford zone.
When the Hereford zone is closed, like the other zones in the state the students who attend Magnet programs, Career & Tech, Special Education regional programs and Special Education programs out of county do not attend school.
The parked buses in the zone are required to travel the roads in the closed zone in order to get to their non-zone school routes.
This past year, the Hereford zone was closed for the first time in five years when the rest of the school system went in two hours late. The Hereford zone several times was two or three hours late this year when the rest of the system was on time. Historically, the Hereford zone is only called late two or three times per year when the rest of the system is on time and not usually closed.
Because the Hereford zone makes up about twenty percent of the size (in area) of the county and is the entire Northern part of the county, and the fact that it is almost a pure feeder system it has been helpful to use the zone because that top part of the county experiences the worst weather conditions. The elevation for the Hereford zone matches the elevation for most of Carroll County.
The fact that the zone exists requires on going intense planning. Like the other zones, logistical problems occur when the zone is two hours late and the rest of the county is on time. It is confusing for Special Education students because some go and some don’t go to school.
There are roads in each of the zones such as Paper Mill Road in Baltimore County that students on one side of the road reside in the closed Hereford zone and do not go to school and students living on the other side of Paper Mill Road go to school.
The question is often asked if Carroll County could have a weather zone or several zones. The answer is a simple yes. A weather zone or zones could be created. However, if a weather zone were to be created questions like where would it be, why would it exist, and how would it be used would have to be answered.
The most likely area to be a weather zone would be the Northern most part of Carroll County along the Pennsylvania boarder. This area of the county traditionally gets a little more snow than the rest of the county, but usually the difference is insignificant. Occasionally a storm like the one on February 26, 2010 that initially caused whiteouts in the Hampstead area spreads across the Northern part of the county covering North Carroll, Manchester Valley, Winters Mill and Francis Scott Key high schools. This storm did reach to Westminster but did not have significant impact South of Westminster.
The typical snow storm that hits Carroll County not only covers the entire Northern part of the County, but extends throughout the county roads south of Route 26 close to Mt. Airy such as Gillis and Gillis Falls Road. These roads usually match the roads in the Northern part of the county. This is due to the topography of Carroll County. The hills or plateau elevations runs through Carroll County from Hampstead to Mt. Airy. The attached topography maps depict the line of most storms.
A weather zone would exist to allow the zone to have a different recommendation for it than the rest of the county. It would be used to possibly close it while the rest of the county went in two hours late. It could also be used to have the zone go in two hours late while the rest of the county was to go in on time.
Carroll County weather is unique. If you look at the average snowfall in Maryland, Carroll averages 36 inches from the corner borders of Carroll at the Pennsylvania line to south of Westminster. In fact, Carroll averages more snow than Frederick, Baltimore, Washington and Allegany County except within their snow zones. The snow average in the other counties snow zones is the same as the average in Carroll all the way South of Westminster.
In order for Carroll to create a snow zone to meet similar criteria as the rest of the school systems in Maryland using a school zone, Carroll’s would have to cover North Carroll High, Manchester Valley High, Winters Mill High and Francis Scott Key High schools. If the zone was closed it would mean that 42.7% of the high school students in the county would not attend and only 57.3% would attend. These four high schools would all have to be included due to the fact they all experience basically the same weather.
None of the four high schools bordering Pennsylvania have a pure feeder system. Manchester Valley by itself does not, but combined with North Carroll it does have a pure feeder system. If North Carroll High and Shiloh Middle were closed it would mean for example that some siblings living in the same house would stay home and his/her brother/sister would go to school. High school/Middle school students would stay home while their siblings attending Sandymount would go to school. Roads that would be closed for one school would be open for another. Would this cause a liability issue for the school system if the bus were to have an accident traveling on a road closed for the one child and open for the other child?
Due to our feeder system boundary lines crossing over each other a problem would exist South to Route 26. If we were to close the Northern zone and their feeder systems it would mean that parts of schools like Sandymount Elementary, West Middle , East Middle, New Windsor Middle, and Winfield Elementary, and Mechanicsville Elementary would have some students attending and some students not attending.
There are other issues connected with a zone such as when a zone is closed none of the Carroll County Career and Tech students in that zone would go to the CCCTC. Special Education students residing in the closed zone would not attend regional centers, but other students throughout the non zone(s) would be attending. Two hour late for a zone causes logistical problems due to the fact that buses have multiple schools on their tight schedules and may not have sufficient time to return to the late zone and then get to the school in the late zone on time.
The research clearly shows that the school zones in each of the other counties are in their highest elevated topography and the zones are significantly different elevations than the rest of the county. Baltimore County’s Hereford zone has the highest elevation in Baltimore County, but is as stated, about the same elevation as most of Carroll County.
The weather experience of the past twenty three years is that storms normally encompass most if not all of the county. There have on occasions been an ice storm that hit one area more than another, but historically, has not been the case. The five to seven built in snow days allows for County wide decisions and two hour late announcements which allows for the rush hour traffic to be gone and more day-light hours for the drivers to see and experience the snow and ice for the first time.
Based upon the fact that almost every storm affects almost all of the county, the fact that the topography of Carroll is about the same from Hampstead to Mt. Airy, and the absence of pure feeder systems, a weather zone is not recommended at this time.
In the future as the county begins to expand again and new schools are planned and built a weather zone with a cleaner feeder system may be warranted.