THURSDAY, 2:47 P.M. – Certain local schools have closed early to get children home safely before the onslaught of what are predicted to be 90 mph wind gusts later this afternoon.
Following the release of an “extreme wind advisory” at around 11:30 a.m., school districts from Big Pine north to Benton chose to send students home either at lunchtime or right after the lunch break.
Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Carma Roper said that officials were notified by the National Weather Service that “extreme winds in the Owens Valley beginning around noon today.”
Peak winds are projected to arrive around 4 p.m. and are estimated to be sustained at 60 mph with gusts of up to 90 mph, she said.
While it’s anticipated that Bishop and the surrounding areas will be the focal point of these extreme winds, all areas of Inyo County should take extra precautions, Roper stressed.
As of 1 p.m., the Lone Pine Unified School District had no plans to close early, but was already busing students home who live outside of Lone Pine, in communities such as Olancha, Keeler, Darwin and Independence.
Owens Valley Unified School District in Independence, where the school day normally ends at 2:30 p.m. for the elementary school students and 3:05 for the high-schoolers, closed at 1 p.m.
According to Superintendent Joel Hampton, the decision was made based primarily on the fact that so many Owens Valley students have to travel on U.S. 395 to get home – some as far away to Cartago in the south and Chalfant Valley in the north. The school didn’t want to risk the highway being closed and the students being stranded at school, which has happened in the past.
“We thought the best thing was to get those students on the buses and headed home,” Hampton said.
Big Pine School District closed its K-12 schools at 1:15 p.m.
Bishop Unified School District Barry Simpson said it was imperative for the schools – which usually let around 3 p.m. – to get students home in advance of severe winds. School officials especially did not want to see a situation where students were standing around after school, or walking home, with tree limbs falling and other debris flying at them.
It was also important to keep the high-profile school buses off the roads during the projected hours with 90 mph wind gusts.
Both reasons also prompted the Eastern Sierra Unified School District to close Edna Beaman Elementary in Benton at 12:30 p.m. and begin busing students home early.
Likewise with Round Valley Elementary School, which closed right after lunch at noon and where the power was already “blinking on and off,” an employee said.
As Roper noted, with wind events such as the one forecasted for this afternoon, power outages are a possibility.
“If traveling or outdoors use extreme caution for potential flying debris and downed power lines,” Roper said. “If you do observe any downed trees or power lines, please notify your local law enforcement agency.”
For tips on disaster supply kits, visit www.ready.gov/build-a-kit .