Agencies prepare for winter mix

COVINGTON - With low temperatures and a chance of precipitation this morning, many county agencies were preparing Wednesday evening for what could be the first winter storm of the season.

According to Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for the Newton County School System, any time a chance of winter weather is predicted, Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley will monitor the weather system overnight to determine if the schools need to be closed or delayed.

"The superintendent ... consults with the sheriff and our transportation director to determine how the inclement weather may have affected driving conditions," Viniard said Wednesday. "The conditions are monitored, and if school needs to be closed or delayed, the superintendent will make that decision by 6 a.m. At that point, we notify the media and start our calling tree."

The school system will notify Covington's radio station, WGFS, as well as Atlanta radio stations Star 94.1 and 98.5 FM. It also will notify Atlanta television stations WSB-TV, WAGA-TV, WXIA-TV and WGCL-TV.

Viniard said the school system looks at current precipitation and road conditions to make the decision on whether or not to cancel or delay school.

"It may not be snowing or sleeting at the moment, but that doesn't mean the bridges aren't already too dangerous to drive on," she said. "We also have to consider how roads out in our rural areas are affected - can a bus make it safely down the road and back? There are many factors taken into consideration before the superintendent makes the call to cancel, delay or call for an early dismissal of school."

If classes are delayed, schools will begin at 10:30 a.m., according to the NCSS inclement weather policy.

"Middle and high school students would report to their first period class on a delayed morning and follow an abbreviated schedule for the remainder of the day. There will be no morning session of half-day special-education preschool, and all parents should note that breakfast will not be served," the policy reads. "Schools will then dismiss at their normal time."

Laswanya Johnson, a manager at Publix in Conyers on Ga. Highway 20, said residents seem to be taking the threat of winter weather seriously. She said the store saw about a 5,000-person increase in business as of Wednesday afternoon.

"They are getting more water, bread, milk," she said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Denise Robinson, a manager at the new Kroger on Salem Road in Covington, said she hadn't really seen an increase in customers yet, but it could increase as conditions worsen.

"This is our first winter, so it's hard to tell what people are going to do," she said.

Robert Griffith, the Newton County roads superintendent, said his department has two sand and salt spreaders ready in case the roads become slick.

"We have somebody on call every night, no matter what, but we will have somebody here on standby checking on the weather," Griffith said Wednesday. "(Covington is) in the 'maybe' zone, so we're playing it by ear. But we'll be ready to go."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.