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 are created to allow differentiated school closing/delay decisions based on the varied weather condtions throughout a county. They currently exist in only four counties in Maryland; Allegany, Washington, Baltimore, and Frederick Counties. They typically are used rarely and only during the winter months. Weather zone boundaries are typically based on school boundary lines.
Allegany County has a separate weather zone that encompasses the Frostburg, George’s Creek area. This part of Allegany County is in the higher elevations and averages more than double the amount of snow than the rest of the county.The Allegany weather zone has a pure feeder system served by one high school, two middle and five elementary schools. All of the students residing within this zone attend one of the five elementary schools. Each of the these elementary schools feeds into one of the two middle schools, and the two middle schools feed directly to the one high school.The Allegany zone is the most frequently used of the four currently exisitng weather zones in the state of Maryland. Over the past twenty years the Allegheny zone has been closed fifty percent more than the rest of the county and has been delayed two hundred and fifty percent more than the rest of the county. In a typical winter, Allegany County will close school 8 days county wide and close the Allegheny weather zone 12 times, and will delay school county wide 10 days and delay the Allegheny weather zone 25 times.When Allegany closes the weather zone, the Career & Technology students and the regional special education students in the zone do not attend school while students in those programs in the remainder of the County do attend school. The alternative school for Allegany County is located in the weather zone but draws students fron throughout the County. On days when the Alleghany zone is closed and the rest of the County is open, thses students do not attend school. When the Alleghany zone is closed and the rest of the County is open, one third of the students in the county remain home 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 and was established due to the severity of the weather conditions in the higher elevations near Camp David. When the Cascade zone is closed, not only do the Cascade elementary students not attend school, but middle and high school studnets that reisde within the Cascade zone do not attend school as well. Special education students living in the Cascade zone do not attend school outside the zone if it is closed. When the Cascade zone is two hours late and the rest of the county is on time there are logistical problems that require four extra buses have to be added to ensure 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 a two hour delay. 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 outside the weather zone.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 that encompasses Catoctin High and Middletown High in the higher elevations of the Catoctin Mountain range. The schools that are within the boundary lines of those two high schools constitute the weather zone.
If the Catoctin zone is closed, the students attending regional special education, magnet schools and the Career & Technology 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 rest of the county even though they may travel through hazardous roads in the closed zone.The Catoctin zone policy was recently re-established after not having a distinct weather zone for several years.Frederick County's practice requires dedicated buses for regular education runs for the two zones. Due to the lack of sufficient number of buses available, some special education routes and shuttle routes are not run when the zone is delayed. Substitute bus drivers and assistants are added if available.
Baltimore County has a weather zone that is contained 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. When it was established, the Hereford zone was a pure feeder system . However, in 1995 Jacksonville Elementary was redistricted and 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 south of the Pennsylvania line, to Carroll County to the West, and Harford County to the East. It has seven schools in it out of the one hundred and seventy two schools in Baltimore County. There are one hundred and sixty five schools not in the Hereford zone. When the Hereford zone is closed, like the other zones in the state, the students residing in the Hereford zone that attend Magnet programs, Career & Tech, Special Education regional programs and Special Education programs out of county do not attend school. Buses being garaged in the zone are required to travel hazardous roads in the closed zone in order to get to schools the buses service that are open. Recently, the Hereford zone was closed for the first time in five years when the rest of the school system went in two hours late. 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 the northern part of the county experiences the worst weather conditions. The existence of the weather zone requires on intense planning to make it effective. 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. Some roads are split between the Hereford zone and the rest of the county. An example of this situation is Paper Mill Road, where students living in the Hereford zone on Paper Mill Road would not attend school if the Hereford zone were closed, while students residing just outside the Hereford zone on Paper Mill Road would attend school if the rest of the county remained open.
The question is often asked if weather zones in Carroll County could be implemented. 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 border. 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 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. For most storms, the road conditions in these areas are typically similar to the road conditions in the Northern part of the county. This is due to the topography of Carroll County. The highest elevations in Carroll County run from the North East to the South West along a line from Hampstead to Mt. Airy. Typically, higher elevations resuly in higher snowfall totals. The elevation for the Hereford zone is similar to the elevation for most of Carroll County. (See below)
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. Based on National Weather Service annual average snowfall totals, Northern and Central Carroll County 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 average annual snowfall in the other counties snow zones is similar to the average in Carroll County including South of Westminster. (See below.)
In order for Carroll to create a snow zone to meet similar criteria as the rest of the school systems in Maryland using a weather zone, a Carroll County weather zone would encompass Manchester Valley High, Winters Mill High and Francis Scott Key High schools. If the zone was closed it would mean that approximatley 40% of the high school students in the county would not attend and approximately 60% would attend. These three high schools would all have to be included due to the fact they all experience basically the same weather conditions.. None of the four high schools bordering Pennsylvania have a pure feeder system. If Manchester Valley High and Shiloh Middle were closed it would mean for 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?
Since Carroll County does not have a pure feeder system, weather zones would result in some students residing in the some schools disticts will attend school while others do not. For example, Sandymount Elementary, West Middle , East Middle, 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 their program. Special Education students residing in the closed zone would not attend regional centers, but other students in the remainder of the county would be attending. A two hour delay 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 a school serviced in the late zone on time.
The school zones in each of the other Maryland counties are in the higher elevations of those counties. 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 built in snow days allow for County wide decisions and two hour late announcements which allows for reduction in rush hour traffic to be and more daylight for drivers to see and experience the snow and ice for the first time. Based upon the fact that most storms affect 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, if Carroll County begins to expand again and new schools are planned and built, and pure feeder systems can be acheived, a separate weather zone may be justified.