WINTER 2014: Latest winter blast knocks out mail for some

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Road closed, schools opened and some got a power bill increase

By Lisa King

Another surge of severe winter weather was heralded by a near blizzard early Saturday morning, which caused numerous problems, such as closed roads and fires, and also interfered with one of the most time-honored activities in U.S. history – mail delivery.


Schools did reopen on Monday despite subzero temperatures and chill factors Monday and Tuesday, and Atmos Energy announced it was adding a rate increase to the misery caused by the persistent winter.

But on Saturday it was 1,400 of Shelby County’s homes that did not receive mail delivery, and postal officials say they have been bombarded with angry comments about that situation.

Annette Baltazar, supervisor at the Shelbyville Post Office, said that it was mostly rural customers who did not receive their mail on Saturday. The Sentinel-News’ Facebook page drew more than 160 comments about the issue.

“We know that several people got quite upset about it because they didn’t get their mail on Saturday,” she said.

Baltazar said the decision not to run some routes was made for safety reasons.

“People don’t realize that the carriers, they are out there walking around and driving around with the windows down, and my job, aside from getting the mail out, is to keep my carriers and the public safe, because if a carrier slides off the road, they could be involved in a traffic accident,” she said. 

“The roads were worse Saturday morning than they were all last week, because we had that snow on top of what had iced over, and then it made a very slippery mix that was not good. There are some roads, like Goose Creek Road in Bagdad, when they get to the top of that hill, if it doesn’t look like it’s going to be safe, they won’t go down it, because they could slide into a tree or something.”

Police had to shut down Todds Point Road on Saturday because drifting and blowing snow caused a head-on collision, and then two other accidents happened right after that in rapid succession when two cars popped up over the hill and ran into the original accident, Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy Blake Lisby said.

“There were no injuries. That was the amazing thing,” he said.

Another car slid off Dover Road and capsized in Junkin’s Run Creek, but there were no injuries.

Officers said there were numerous minor wrecks around the county.


Schools challenge cold

But after temperatures approaching 50 on Sunday cleared the roads, schools resumed after a week-long closure because of roads and bitter, sub-zero cold. The cold returned Monday and dipped below zero both mornings as school buses continued to operate.

Cathy Davis, administrative assistant to Shelby County School Superintendent James Neihoff, said the school system’s Web site includes an explanation of how school officials use factors such as wind chill to determine whether schools should be closed.

When the National Weather Service issues a wind chill warning or advisory, with wind chills reaching -35 degrees or -20 degrees, respectively, for three hours or more during the time of the morning bus route, schools will be closed. The decision may be made the night before or in the morning.

School officials also urge parents to dress their children warmly in freezing weather and said that if they have trouble getting kids to school because of weather issues, that could be considered an excused absence, but it has to be reported to the child’s school attendance office.

Because students have missed seven days this school year, administrators on Thursday approved changing the school calendar for February. Now students will go to school on Feb. 17-18, which they previously had off.

Davis said that the school year could even be extended past May 29 if schools are closed again.

“It just depends on if we get more snow days, because we don’t have snow days built into the calendar,” she said.


Rate increase for Atmos

Chimney fires are always a possibility in freezing temperatures, and already this winter, at least one such scenario cost a family their home when a blaze Saturday destroyed a home in Mount Eden.

Mount Eden Firefighter Tim Herndon said the home was situated atop a hill and firefighters had extreme difficulty trying to climb the hill with their equipmentin blizzard-like conditions.

But heating homes has become an increasing issue of demand on power companies, and on Monday Atmos Energy, which provides natural gas service to 7,200 residents in Shelby County, announced it would implement a rate increase of $4.50 per customer that began this past Wednesday.

Kay Coomes, spokesperson for Atmos, said her company has not raised rates since 2009, when it imposed a $2.66 raise. She said her company’s rates remain the lowest in the state.

She said the timing of the rate increase, coming at a time when people will be having higher heating bills than normal, is unfortunate, but it’s just how it worked out, because Atmos months ago had set in motion the increase months ago.

“I also want to remind everybody that the majority of the bill is the natural gas adjustment, which we have no control over,” she said. “It has nothing to do with our rates. We purchase the gas at a price and we pass on that price. And they [customers] can still control that through conservation. They can lower their thermostats and have energy savings by that proactive step. If you lower your thermostat just one or two degrees, it will save you 10 percent on your heating bill.”


Icing affects wireless Internet

Weather has also affected some Internet services, including that of customers of Shelby Broadband. Chuck Hogg, co-owner, said that not many of the company’s customers have had Internet connectivity problems.

“We usually don’t see that kind of issue on the towers,” he said. “We’re unable to get some of the service calls done for equipment that has become bad, or gone out of alignment, as a result of ice, and we’re not able to get on top of people’s roofs, so it’s more on the homeowner’s side than it is with our towers.

“We’ve still been doing tower work in this weather, so that’s not typically an issue. The homeowner should call, and we’ll keep them on our list until the situation improves and we can address it.”