by Lisa Tome
Bob Markwardt counts on the National Weather Service, Meteorologist Justin Berk, and Accu Weather for his forecasts.
Those high-tech up to the minute weather bulletins can be critical in determining whether local schools will start late or be cancelled.
But Markwardt, Supervisor of Transportation for Cecil County Public Schools, also takes to the streets to help him determine the fate of the school day.
In the early morning hours, about 3 a.m. on school days when the weather is questionable, he gets behind the wheel and drives 45-50 miles in his Town and Country mini van.
He leaves his home near Red Pump Road, Rising Sun. He then drives on Horseshoe Road and Roop Road. He then ventures into Octoraro Lakes.
"If I can make it up the hill in Octoraro Lakes, that's a good sign (that roads are good)," Markwardt said. "By the time I get to Octoraro Lakes, I have a good idea (on whether he will recommend closure or delay)."
He then drives on Connelly and Weavers Meadows roads. He heads to Pilot Town Road. "If you're going to judge, if the state highways are not in good condition, there is no reason to check the other roads (due to state versus county funding)," he said.
He then drives Rowlandsville Road and Doctor Jack. He then maneuvers along Liberty Grove Road, Granite Avenue, and into downtown Port Deposit. He takes Route 222 to Mt. Ararat Farms, travels Frenchtown Road and then takes Route 7 to Mountain Road, Carpenters Point and the Charlestown area.
He doesn't drive slow and steady.
"I stomp on the accelerator, slam on the brakes," he said. He also stops and starts, imitating the motions of a school bus.
"I've never gotten stuck that I've had to call a tow truck. But I've had to shovel myself out," said Markwardt.
He's not the only school personnel out on the early morning drive.
Fellow public school staffers also chip in their opinion after taking a drive. Harry McDaniel drives below the canal in Chesapeake City. Dan Jester drives in and around North East. Markwardt uses the combination of the high tech forecasts and the driving assessments to make a recommendation to the school superintendent regarding whether schools should be delayed or closed.
"Usually, we're a pretty good consensus. We do the driving and we talk to the other counties (Harford and Kent)," said Markwardt. "When we go to the superintendent, we give all the information - high tech forecasts and the driving."
Markwardt said the evaluations are performed and the high tech information obtained with the knowledge that staff and student safety is of the utmost importance. "The safety of students and staff are the top priority. Buses are very different than other vehicles, they are stopping and starting," he said.
Markwardt is also charged with the task of taking phone calls from parents if they are unhappy with a closing, delay or the lack of either.
"They say 'do you know what these roads are like?'. I can say yes," Markwardt added.
This school year, school has been delayed twice and closed seven times. On average, between 2001-2013, school was closed four times each year. Twice during that time span, school was closed nine days.