A record breaking February snowfall of over 30 inches has brought this season’s total accumulation to 63 inches or about five feet, according to data from the National Weather Service. Perham’s city hall and school administration are bracing for more as March, what can be the season’s snowiest month, approaches.
Perham-Dent School District Superintendent Mitch Anderson said it’s just been one of those years.
“It’s scary to think it’s only February and the typical heavy precipitation isn’t here yet,” Anderson said.
Perham has cancelled school four times and delayed its start time five times due to adverse weather conditions. The school board has forgiven two of the snow days and activated the two scheduled make up days on Feb. 18 and April 22.
Anderson said the “magic number” of school days is 165, and Perham’s schedule has 171.
“We’re well above that number, so we’ve got flexibility,” Anderson said. “We’re not in jeopardy of being in noncompliance and losing funding.”
Canceling school is dependent on a variety of different conditions, Anderson said.
“Some are no brainers. If it’s a blizzard warning, that’s a sure sign we’ll cancel.”
The district’s large geographic area means conditions can vary widely.
“It’s a challenge,” Anderson said. “I get out on the roads and drive in my neck of the woods.”
Anderson said he talks to about 40 area superintendents the night before making scheduling decisions.
“The phone starts ringing at about 4 a.m.,” Anderson said. “We try to stay consistent along the Highway 10 corridor with Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Vergas and Wadena.”
“Granted, we live in Minnesota, we know there’s going to be bad roads 6 months of the year,” Anderson said. “We’re not cancelling over light, fluffy snow.”
City Manager Jonathan Smith said Perham has used roughly 50 percent of its snow removal budget.
“Snow budgets always get a little interesting,” Smith said. Because the budget runs from January to December, the snow season falls in the middle. “We’re expending more than we typically do, next fall and winter will dictate the impact moving forward. “
Eight drivers rotate between five plow trucks, a grader and a payloader to clear the snow and haul most of it to the East Otter Tail County Fairgrounds.
Once the flakes let up, the crew starts plowing at about 2 a.m. and is able to clear all the streets in about a six to eight hour period. Then they head back out the next day with smaller equipment to hit everything else.
With the amount of snow, high snow banks create a safety concern at intersections, Smith said.
“If it ever lets up we try to clean it up,” he said. “We can only push it so far.”
Smith said they’re doing the best they can to keep the roads clear and hopes residents can be patient.
“We’re not used to these snowfalls, it takes a little more time and effort,” Smith said. “We’re as tired with the snow as everyone else at this point.”
Janice Lubitz, a postal worker, said the post office has been hit hard by the snowfall.
Lubitz said the post office holds undeliverable mail until the homeowner clears a path to their mailbox, once they’ve called to confirm the path is clear, a mail carrier will make another attempt. Mail delivery trucks are also frequently delayed which clogs up the whole process.
“We can’t get to boxes, if they can’t get to a box safely, they can’t get there, so we’re holding a lot of mail back,” Lubitz said.