BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools canceled all classes for today given a weather forecast predicting strong wind gusts and continued heavy snowfall in northern Michigan.
"All school classes and events are cancelled," said Paul Soma, TCAPS' chief financial officer. "Based on the prediction of 9 to more 13 inches of snow and a blizzard warning with sustained winds of above 35 miles per hour — and a travel warning issued by a local meteorologist — the decision has been made to cancel school."
The strong winds and additional snow are expected to blow into the region a day after a powerful storm gave many kids Thursday off as well. The weather also downed power lines, caused flight cancellations and slickened roadways for commuters.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Keith Berger said blowing snow will be a big issue for drivers much of today.
"The real story (today) is going to be the winds," Berger said. "Forty-mile-per-hour gusts, with gusts as high as 50 miles per hour. Not a ton of additional snowfall, but what has fallen will be blowing and drifting."
Predictions indicated residents would wake this morning to significant snow accumulations after Thursday's wet, slushy and sometimes slippery driving conditions. Motorists in the region's rural areas faced white-knuckle rides. U.S. 31 from Benzie County to Traverse City was especially difficult and slick during Thursday's early morning commute and was likely to be the same today. Similar conditions were observed in Kalkaska County and on U.S. 131.
"The snow is thick and heavy and the roads are treacherous," said Deborah Bull, administrative executive at the Kalkaska County Library. "I came in this morning on hazardous roads, and it doesn't look like they've improved."
Michigan State Police Sgt. Scott Bates said drivers should stay off the roads if at all possible. Cooling temperatures Thursday night were expected to combine with a second blast of precipitation and today's strong winds, holding the potential for dangerous driving.
"We've had cars in the ditch all day," Bates said. "If you don't have to travel, stay off the roads."
Schools were closed Thursday from Cadillac to Frankfort and from Traverse City to Northport. But in some spots where rain trumped snow, schools carried on Thursday. Holiday concerts were expected to take place Thursday night as scheduled in Suttons Bay.
Regarding possible school closings on Friday, Murray said, "We are going to have to make that call in the morning."
Power outages were reported throughout the region, including Kalkaska, Mancelona, Brethren, Lake Ann, and Thompsonville. Great Lakes Energy reported 7,700 customers without power Thursday night. Many of those customers were in the utility's Kalkaska and Reed City service areas.
Consumers Energy had 35,000 electric customers in the state without power late Thursday afternoon, including 1,535 in Antrim, 2,574 in Mecosta and 812 in Otsego counties. Cherryland Electric Cooperative at one point reported close to 800 customers without power during the day Thursday but the utility was quick to restore service to most of them. A small number of power outages were also reported by other utilities in the region.
"We staffed up," said Frank Siepker, a Cherryland Electric engineering and operations manager. "We knew this was coming and made sure the crews are ready to go and on call."
Twelve out of 22 flights were canceled at Cherry Capital Airport Thursday. Airport Director Kevin Klein was optimistic most flights will resume today despite strong winds.
"The best way to find out what's going on is by contacting the airlines you are flying on to get the most up-to-date information on cancellations," Klein said. Passengers may also obtain information from the airport's website, www.tvcairport.com.