Schools make early call to declare a snow day

The decision to call off school today was made nearly 12 hours before the winter storm was expected to hit Omaha.

Metro-area superintendents made the decision about 1 p.m. Monday.

Several school officials said that was the earliest snow-day decision that they could recall ahead of a storm.

Various factors played into the decision, they said, including the consistency of the forecast and a desire to give parents time to make alternate plans for their children. The timing of the storm also was a factor, with heavy snow expected during the morning rush.

"We've been getting questions about it since last week," Omaha Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Farmer said. "We wanted to give people advance notice to make some plans for tomorrow."

Canceling school — and keeping dozens of school buses off snowy roads — could also aid the City of Omaha when it comes to snow removal and safety, Farmer said.

Andy Rikli, superintendent of Papillion-La Vista Community Schools, said several superintendents sat in on a national weather webinar Sunday, which reinforced for him that "this is going to be pretty ugly." Papillion-La Vista has three snow days built into the schedule and hasn't used any.

Monday's snow day announcement was music to the ears of students, parents and staff at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Literally.

Assistant Principal Eric Krakowski sent an automated phone message in the form of a song, to the tune of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from the movie "Frozen."

The lyrics were all his own, though, including this verse:

"You could bake yourself some cookies, I don't care, As long as you're safe inside. Tuesday is gonna be a snow day, Don't ask yet about this Wednesday, Take it one day at a time!"

— Joe Dejka, Erin Duffy and Susan Szalewski

Cox Wi-Fi hotspots available for free to all during storm

Cox Communications will make its 600 Omaha-area Wi-Fi hotspots accessible to anyone during the snowstorm.

The hotspots, to be open early this morning through Thursday, will be free of charge whether or not the user is a Cox customer.

"Our goal, after ensuring the safety of our employees, is to assist Cox customers, area residents and visitors to the Omaha metropolitan area ... to stay connected," a company spokeswoman said.

To locate Cox Wi-Fi hotspots, go to bit.ly/1iKE9Jm

— Janice Podsada

Hotels fill up with guests, who can fill up on cookies

Not to fear, the Doubletree Hotel downtown will have 10,000 chocolate chip cookies on hand for hotel guests who may be stranded downtown during the storm.

Sandy Buonanni, the Doubletree's general manager, said Monday that he expects the hotel's 414 rooms to be full tonight.

Hotel staff started planning for the storm last week, he said. In addition to those 10,000 cookies — the hotel's standard weekly reserve — there will be plenty of other food and drink on hand for guests.

The city's centrally located hotels probably will be booked up for tonight after companies began reserving rooms Sunday for their employees who might be unable to drive home or fly in or out of the city.

Fortunately, there aren't any big conventions or groups in town today that will have their trips disrupted by the storm, the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau said.

The Marriott Courtyard, in downtown Omaha at 101 S. 10th St., received a flurry of cancellations ahead of the storm, so Hanin Alnajjar, the hotel's operations manager, said the hotel might have some rooms available today.

At the DoubleTree Hotel Omaha Southwest off 72nd Street and Interstate 80, Rene Graham said business travelers, especially, were extending their stays.

There were only six rooms available out of 100 on Monday afternoon at the Holiday Inn Express, 8736 West Dodge Road, manager Mary Crawford said.

— Janice Podsada and Barbara Soderlin

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