Browning Elementary School second-grader Mason Paull, 7, sleds with his mother, Cheryl, at Delia Park in Sterling Heights during his day off from school Jan. 29.

Browning Elementary School second-grader Mason Paull, 7, sleds with his mother, Cheryl, at Delia Park in Sterling Heights during his day off from school Jan. 29.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Some city, school services put on ice following snow, cold

City issues 419 parking violations

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 1, 2019

 Browning Elementary School kindergartener Mila Paull, 5, sleds with her mom Jan. 29 at Delia Park.

Browning Elementary School kindergartener Mila Paull, 5, sleds with her mom Jan. 29 at Delia Park.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Wild winter weather frosted and exhausted Sterling Heights residents and government services the week of Jan. 28 as city buildings, schools and streets faced disruptions due to a one-two wallop of snow and subzero temperatures. 

Several inches of snow fell in Sterling Heights Monday, Jan. 28. In preparation, the Utica Community and Warren Consolidated school districts decided the previous night to cancel classes for Monday. Those districts remained closed the following three days, too, due to lingering circumstances and severe cold temperatures that fell below zero. Meteorologists blamed the polar vortex for the frigid weather.

The city of Sterling Heights declared a snow emergency after 5 p.m. Jan. 28, which meant that vehicles had to stay off the streets so the snowplows could do their work. Parking was prohibited until the city called off the snow emergency.

City officials announced the next day that the Department of Public Works had finished more than half of the city and expected to finish salting and clearing snow by early Wednesday, which was when the city lifted the snow emergency. 

According to Sterling Heights police Lt. Mario Bastianelli, the city’s police and code enforcement officers gave a total of 419 citations for failing to abide by the parking rules during the snow emergency. 

“Our officers made every attempt to reach out to homeowners prior to making citations,” he said. “Ultimately, the people they could not get a hold of received the citations.”

City services were also affected by the snow and cold. The library and municipal buildings shut down early that Monday. Over the course of the week, the Parks and Recreation Department canceled certain classes, and even the ice rink closed down when it got too cold outside. 

The city offered a warming shelter at the Sterling Heights Senior Center Jan. 29-31, and people were encouraged to warm up at the library while it was open or at Utica United Methodist Church in Sterling Heights. 

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said Jan. 31 that he wanted to thank police officers, firefighters and other first responders for their service, as well as the DPW for clearing the streets “in tremendously challenging circumstances.”

Taylor thanked the residents and families who had to endure the weather or stay home during the week.

“It’s definitely been challenging, and I appreciate the response of the community banding together and getting through this without any major issues,” he said.
    In the Utica Community Schools district, the missed time Jan. 28-31 means that the school district has used up five of its six allotted days to cancel for inclement weather this school year.

Superintendent Christine Johns said UCS has a chance, if necessary, to request additional time off without having to make up school days if further winter weather warrants it.

“What’s important to note is that if we exceed that, we then can request three additional days through a waiver from the state’s superintendent,” she said. 

However, the waiver requires a rationale, and it’s to be used sparingly, not automatically, she added.

Johns said that when the UCS team is evaluating the weather situation, they are first and foremost keeping the safety of kids in mind — particularly whether it’s safe for students and staff to go to school and then get home. While she didn’t mention a particular snowfall or temperature threshold that determines a school closure, she said they look at the “conditions in their totality.”

“We monitor the weather conditions. Our district covers 66 square miles, so we’re not like everybody else,” she said. “We anticipate and evaluate the weather conditions. We look at everything from what is the predicted precipitation, what is the timing of that precipitation, what’s the temperature, what’s the windchill?”

Johns added that the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources and transportation, Michael Sturm, is among the district’s “boots on the ground,” checking driving and road conditions while evaluating the schools and subdivisions. Another person checks the schools’ heating and building conditions, she said. UCS officials also consider whether the buses can run effectively, she added.

Students and staff from Warren Consolidated Schools “chilled” out last week when school was closed Jan. 28-31 due to the freezing cold weather Michigan endured.

In WCS, officials use weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the National Weather Service and local news for forecast information to help determine school closings. After-school activities are often called off on snow days. A variety of factors are used to make the decision.

“There are numerous factors that affect the decision to close school, including temperature and windchill factors, snow and ice accumulation, road conditions, and city sidewalks,” WCS Superintendent Robert Livernois said in an email. “There is no specific temperature or windchill cutoff that we use, especially given there are so many weather factors along with the fact that we have multiple start times for our schools.”   

Busing also is a consideration as WCS makes more than 4,000 bus stops to pick up children every morning.

“Given the district transports thousands of students to and from school each day, along with field trips and after-school activities, busing is always a major factor,” Livernois said. “In fact, if our buses cannot safely travel throughout the district in a timely manner, schools may close.”

Local superintendents discuss weather conditions with each other before making a final determination to close. 

“Many county districts and the Macomb Intermediate School District share many programs and services to save money, so the need to coordinate closure is especially important,” Livernois said.    

Superintendents also depend on school personnel to help with the decision.

“We also rely on key staff who travel around the district, typically several hours before the start of school, to assess road conditions,” he said. 

Statewide, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Jan. 28 before the subzero temperatures were predicted to hit.  On Wednesday night, Jan. 30, an emergency alert went out on phones urging Michiganders to lower their thermostats to 65 degrees or lower through Friday, Feb. 1. Officials said alert was an effort to use less natural gas following a Consumers Energy facility fire earlier that day.

On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 31, city officials announced that Whitmer had talked to Taylor that afternoon, offering assistance if necessary. However, city officials said “Sterling Heights has fared quite well” and had not declared a local emergency at press time.

According to the statement, Consumers Energy told Sterling Heights officials that a reduction in manufacturing, such as from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co., helped the utility conserve its resources. As a result, the utility was able to avoid shutting off service to homes. 

City officials said that 3,000 properties near Lakeside Mall had power outages the previous night that were later restored by DTE Energy. Around 50 people per night had been using Utica United Methodist Church’s warming shelter. 

“We have no water main breaks at the moment, but expect that to change as the temperature rises quickly over the weekend,” the announcement states.

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling
heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. For Utica Community Schools, visit www.uticak12.org or call (586) 797-1000.

Staff Writer Maria Allard contributed to this report.