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Published in Print: February 2, 2000, as Severe Snowstorm Shuts Down East Coast Schools

Severe Snowstorm Shuts Down East Coast Schools

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A surprise snowstorm wreaked havoc last week throughout the Eastern part of the country, shutting down schools from South Carolina to Maine.

North Carolina was probably the state hardest hit by the storm, which started with little warning after nightfall on Jan. 24.

Raleigh, in the central part of the state, was buried under more than 20 inches of snow—the most snowfall ever recorded in the state. Schools in the 94,850-student Wake County school district, which includes the city, were closed for the rest of the week.

"I just can't tell you how bizarre it is," said Kirsten Weeks, the assistant press secretary for Gov. James B. Hunt, who declared a state of emergency on Tuesday of last week.

In order to remove the snow from the roads, the state department of transportation called in plows that are normally kept in the Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state. Wake County officials were still urging citizens to stay off the roads last Thursday.

Kay Williams, the communications director for the state education department, said that more bad weather was predicted over the weekend in Wake County, and that schools there would be lucky to reopen on Monday, Jan. 31.

To the east of Wake County in Pitt County, where families are still displaced as a result of the flooding from last fall's Hurricane Floyd, only 3 to 4 inches of snow fell. But that was enough to ice over roads and shut down schools in the 20,000-student district for three days.

Since the district lost 13 days of school because of the flood, students will have to make up the extra time on Saturdays, during spring break, or at the end of the year, said Barry Gaskins, a district spokesman. He added that it is rare for the area to miss a block of days because of snow.

"In my memory, we have never had anything this devastating all in one year," said Mr. Gaskins, who has been with the district for more than 20 years and grew up in the area.

Other Areas Hit Hard

Bob Chartuk, a spokesman for the National Weather Service's Eastern region, said upstate South Carolina received up to 12 inches of snow, which is unusual for that area.

The storm came as such a surprise because computer forecasting models were wrong, Mr. Chartuk said.

The area was even more unprepared, he added, because 1999 was the second-warmest year on record for the East Coast, and because the winter got off to a slow start as a result of a weather system called La Niña.

Meanwhile, Washington received 9 inches of snow. City schools were closed for two days, and some suburban districts were out longer.

The snowstorm swept as far north as Portland, Maine. A spokeswoman for the 7,900-student district said that 6 to 8 inches of snow fell in the coastal city, and ice formed on top of the snow.

But the Maine district was much better prepared for the weather than its counterparts down South. Portland schools closed early on Tuesday, but remained open the rest of the week.

Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 5

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