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Flood threat closes schools early

At a time of year when snow can be the biggest weather issue, heavy rain is instead, with the threat of flooding leading to the early closure Thursday of both Mount Airy and Surry County schools.

“We’ve got hydroplaning in a lot of places,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said around 11 a.m. of incidents that had occurred already due to water pooling up on road surfaces and streams overflowing. Even at that time, 6 inches had gathered on the Fisher River bridge at N.C. 268, Shelton reported.

“Rivers are starting to rise pretty quickly now.” This includes not only larger waterways but tributaries, with the downstream flow from mountainous areas of Virginia also said to be a factor.

Given those problems, resulting from heavy early Thursday, officials decided to close city and county schools early because even heavier showers were expected in the afternoon based on the forecast, Shelton explained.

Mount Airy City Schools announced that due to the flooding and possible unsafe road conditions, students at Jones Intermediate and Mount Airy Middle would be dismissed at 11:45 a.m. and B.H. Tharrington Primary and Mount Airy High at noon.

Surry County school officials issued an alert that all their campuses would dismiss students at 12:30 p.m.

Afternoon school activities and after-school daycare also were cancelled for Surry schools, with city officials saying there would be no afternoon or evening events, either.

Shelton said the thinking was that efforts should be made to get students home before the expected imposing of road closures and detours that would hamper bus traffic. Another concern was high school students who drive to classes.

Special announcements were to be made at each school to “tell the kids to drive extremely slow while they’re going home,” Shelton said in urging the same caution among motorists in general.

“What they really need to understand is speed versus just a few inches of water takes you straight off the ground,” the county emergency services director said of the hazard involved.

Pre-emptive efforts were under way around noon Thursday to barricade roadways that tend to pose flooding problems. “Anything that’s connected to the Ararat River,” Shelton said of listing such trouble spots, also including areas near Stewarts Creek and the Mitchell River in the Lowgap vicinity.

With heavy rain posing enough problems, Shelton also was worried about the possibility of tornado activity.

“The counties south of us are already under a tornado watch,” the emergency official said before noon, when he feared that this might move north.

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By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.



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