Schools, businesses await snow and wonder: How much are we getting this time?

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All they knew for sure was that they didn't know much for sure.

School superintendents and store employees alike took a watch-and-wait approach to the incoming storm Tuesday, which is projected to dump about 6 to 10 inches of snow in some parts of the county.

"Without question, we're going to have snow," said James White, the executive director of Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams. "For me, the question is: when is that snow going to arrive?"

When reached by The Eagle late Tuesday morning, White had already been monitoring weather forecasts and talking with other superintendents.

Some schools try to make a call the night before, but for White, that's too early.

He'll be up at about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, texting other superintendents in the Berkshires.

They'll exchange information about road conditions, updated weather and any communication from bus companies.

It helps when they agree.

"When people start sort of settling into that same decision, you all feel a bit better about it," he said.

But the districts have different challenges to take into account.

BART draws students from all over the county.

"For us, we've got all these bus routes that are going far outside of any one community," White said.

In Pittsfield, hundreds of students walk to school.

"If the sidewalks aren't clear, the sidewalks are not passable, then you have kids walking in the road," said Jason "Jake" McCandless, superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools.

McCandless drives around early in the morning on uncertain snow days, looking at the condition of the sidewalks.

District officials also keep in touch with local police about road conditions.

About a couple hundred students — probably more — drive themselves to Pittfield schools, McCandless said.

"We're talking about young drivers out on sometimes very slippery roads," he said. "Sometimes their cars are in good condition ... sometimes they're not."

McCandless doesn't usually make snow closing decisions the day before either, unless it's clear school won't be possible.

He has to make a decision by 5:30 or 5:40 a.m. at the latest, to allow enough time to notify buses and parents.

The district sent parents a recorded message Monday night, letting them know students might have a half day on Wednesday — just to give parents time to plan their schedules.

Another message was sent Tuesday evening. "We will be making the call on whether to have a planned early-release half-day, no school or a regular school day (in the) morning," the note read at the time. "If we do have the planned half-day ... or if we close the schools altogether, I will be placing a call ... prior to 5:50 AM. Please check our website, www.pittsfield.net, as all cancellation, delay or early-release information is posted there as soon as the decision is made."

"It looks like the storm is going to trend a little earlier," McCandless told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon.

McCandless has had to consider closing school about a dozen times this year.

"It's what it is, to be doing this job in New England," he said. "[I'm] always happy to see the last snowfall of the year come and go."

Bart Raser, co-owner of Carr Hardware stores, welcomes winter — from January's deep cold to the impending storm.

Customers were already out in droves Tuesday afternoon, seeking ice melters — primarily.

"Ice melters by far is the big item of the day," Raser said. "The morning was crazy."

Customers also sought shovels and snowblowers.

Typically, it's busy before a storm.

This time, Raser said he hasn't had a demand for power supply items — it doesn't look like this storm will cut electricity, he said.

Steve Gigliotti, store director of the Big Y in Pittsfield, also saw a customary pre-storm influx of customers Tuesday.

"Pretty much anytime there's any significant snow, we get that rush," he said. "We're definitely seeing increased foot traffic."

The rush seeks things like bread, milk, shovels and rock salt.

The store was well-stocked in anticipation of the rush.

"They definitely sounded the alarm early enough," Gigliotti said.

The store plans to remain open during normal business hours Wednesday.

"The forecast is as good as they give it to us," Gigliotti said. "Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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