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Snow may delay semester start at Clayton State

The beginning of Clayton State University's spring semester may get snowed in winter weather next week, officials at the university said on Friday.

Classes for the new semester at the Morrow-based school are scheduled to begin on Monday, but forecasts of a heavy mix of snow, rain and sleet are causing officials with the university, and local school systems, to keep an eye on the weather forecasts this weekend.

"Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, is scheduled to be the first day of classes for the spring 2011 semester at Clayton State University," said Clayton State spokesman, John Shiffert, in a written statement. "However, the forecast is anything but spring-like, with [several inches] of snow, sleet and, or freezing rain possible, starting on Sunday afternoon ... and continuing into Monday afternoon."

Officials at Clayton State, as well as Clayton County Public Schools and Henry County Schools, all said people should be prepared for the possibility that schools may not be open on Monday, depending on what happens with the weather.

Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said an area of low pressure was crossing Texas and heading into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. As it enters the gulf, it is expected to strengthen.

"That route puts us in an area that is expected to receive a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow from Sunday evening, through Tuesday," Garcia said. "North Clayton [County] and South Fulton [County], up through Cherokee County could receive anywhere from three, to five inches of snow [on Sunday evening]."

Garcia said rain and sleet are expected to begin falling Sunday, after 1 p.m., with the heaviest chance of snow coming Sunday night. The National Weather Service's web site showed, on Friday afternoon, that there is an 80 percent chance of snow and sleet falling in the area on Sunday night, with temperatures dropping to 28 degrees.

Garcia said there is a 70 percent chance of freezing rain and sleet falling during the day, with temperatures staying below the freezing mark, as the winter weather begins to move out of the Atlanta area. "Tuesday, it should have moved out of the area with temperatures reaching a high of 34 degrees," he said.

Clayton State spokesman, John Shiffert said any decision university officials make about classes, or events taking place on the campus, will not likely be made until Sunday evening, or early Monday morning.

In a written statement from the university, Spivey Hall Education Manager, Catherine Striplin, said performances the Philos Brass Quintet, scheduled to take place Monday morning, in the university's concert hall, will only be canceled if classes are canceled.

Officials from Clayton and Henry county schools said that the threat is whether the snow, sleet and rain turns into ice on the roads overnight.

"If it was just snow, but the roads were clear, we could have school," said Leslie Cheetwood, the coordinator of administrative service for Henry County Schools. "It's just the conditions on the roads, though."

Clayton County Public Schools spokesman, Charles White, added, "it's the side roads, and the roads that are covered a lot of trees, that are the biggest issue. There is not a lot of traffic on those roads, and they are not the first roads to get [de-icing] treatment."

Cheetwood and White explained predicting the weather is not an exact science, and it is often not possible to make decisions about closing schools until the overnight hours. They said their school systems try to make decisions as early as possible, usually no later than 5 a.m. on the day in question, though.

Cheetwood said she will be participating in webinar meetings with emergency management officials from across Henry County throughout the weekend, to monitor the weather. She added Henry County Schools officials will consult with Henry County public safety officials, and the Georgia Department of Transportation, on Sunday and early Monday morning to determine whether the roads are safe enough for transporting children.

Similarly, White said officials from Clayton County's transportation department will begin checking road conditions at 3 a.m., on Monday. Discussions are ongoing about whether a Clayton County Board of Education meeting, scheduled for Monday evening, should still be held, White said.

Clayton State, as well as Clayton County Public Schools and Henry County Schools, will each post closings on their web sites (www.clayton.edu/, www.clayton.k12.ga.us/, and www.henry.k12.ga.us/, respectively) as well as reporting them to local television news and radio stations. White said Clayton County Public Schools will also use its "ConnectEd" telephone system to contact parents.

Clayton State will also post information about closings on its Facebook and Twitter pages. Clayton State students and faculty can also call the university's main telephone number, (678) 466-4000, for information.