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Never Under the Weather

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Given that there's 31 feet of snow on the ground, Superintendent of Schools Harry Rogers can justifiably boast that the weather has not forced him to cancel a single day of classes for the 800 students of the Valdez (Alaska) City Schools.

And although this winter's snowfall is, thus far, just one foot shy of the local record, Mr. Rogers says that in his three years as superintendent in Valdez he remembers only two weather-related closings, including the time that 70 mile-per-hour winds roared down out of the glaciers surrounding the town.

Residents and city services are accustomed to coping with extreme weather, he says. In a "compact town" like Valdez, he notes, children generally live close enough to school that the elements don't often keep them away.

This winter, that held true even when 47 inches of snow fell in 24 hours during the same week that 6 feet of new snow blanketed the community.

Mr. Rogers' biggest headache, he says, has been recruiting workers to shovel snow ... from the roofs of the district's buildings.

He attributes the labor shortage to a number of factors, including the fact that the town is flush with cash this year, much of it earned by the workers who helped clean up Prince William Sound after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef last March and spilled much of her cargo there.

The law of supply and demand has accordingly boosted the hourly rate for snow shoveling to $16.

Mr. Rogers estimates that it may cost as much as $100,000 to keep roofs clear of snow this year, a figure that is two to three times the normal rate.

And leaving the snow to melt in the spring thaw, which could be at least three months away, definitely is not an option.

District officials estimated that, at its peak, the snow was exerting a crushing pressure of approximately 90 pounds per square foot on the flat roofs.

At some point, Mr. Rogers says, "We went from saying, 'We'd better start shoveling', to 'My God, we've got to start shoveling!"'--pw

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