Snow depth at sea level neared 15 inches by Wednesday, January 8, 2020. Snowfall in Sitka has been recorded since 1948 — using measurements taken by hand. Online, you’ll see precipitation data that’s likely been converted to the liquid equivalent of water, says meteorologist Daniel Hartsock. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Note: After this story aired with information that the last snow day happened prior to 2001, KCAW heard from at least one former teacher who recalls a snow day sometime around 2004 — but we haven’t confirmed the details. By the way, teachers in Sitka will report to work as usual on Thursday, January 9. To make up for the snow day, the district will trade a planned inservice day in April.

Students in Sitka are getting a snow day on Thursday — their first in around 15 years.

Roughly 15 inches of snow has fallen in the last few days — much of it since Monday. Superintendent Mary Wegner spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (1-8-20). She said that giving kids an unexpected holiday is pretty rare. She thought back over her six-year tenure, the 13-year tenure of her predecessor Steve Bradshaw, and the 8-year tenure of his predecessor John Holst.

I did let school out early one day when we were worried about icy roads. I think Steve (Bradshaw) did a potential mudslide day. And the reason John (Holst) did it all those years ago is the same reason I called it today: There’s just so much snow that people have not been able to shovel sidewalks. The city has been working crazy hours. I’ve been talking with Harry many times in the city plow truck, and they’re doing their best to keep up on it. But there’s really no safe place for students to stand and wait for the school buses.

15 inches happens to be the height of XTRATUF boots. That’s how much snow fell in a single day on December 17, 1961. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

John Holst was superintendent of the district from 1993 to 2001 — a period in which snowfall was more of a regular feature of Sitka’s winters. But those weren’t the biggest years: In 2007 and 2008 Sitka had huge snows, but school remained in session. City crews in those years had help from private contractors, however. This year, the municipal administrator’s office confirms that no one bid on the plowing contract — and it’s not likely that it will be put out to bid again.

That means city crews have been hitting the streets beginning at around 3 A.M., leaving plenty of time for additional snow to fall before the start of the working day.

Mary Wegner thinks one day should do the job.

“We do hope that with another day — we’re only supposed to get another couple of inches — if that holds, we do hope that we’ll be able to get the buses to run safely by Friday,” she said.

That might be optimistic on Wegner’s part. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for the outer coast, that includes the possibility of another 4-9 inches of snow accumulation. The watch states that Sitka is not expected to get the heaviest of the snow forecast for the storm.

But it’s not out of the question. Meteorologist Daniel Hartsock with the National Weather Service in Juneau says Sitka’s record snowfall came on December 17, 1961 — 15 inches in one day. It started snowing in Sitka on January 1, and hasn’t really stopped except for one day. That, Hartsock says, could put January 2020 “in the top ten” snowiest months on record.