Our first snow day of the winter got in just under the wire. Schools in our area closed last Tuesday, one week before the official start of spring. Everyone has an opinion about snow days and whether or not schools should be closed. If you grew up in a place where several feet of snow were not uncommon, you scoff when two inches of snow close schools in northern Virginia. People from Chicago mock Washingtonians. People from L.A. keep quiet. They are well aware how much trouble a few drops of ran gives them.
It is the school systems that get blamed when schools close, or stay open. For the poor people who make the decisions to close schools, it is a no-win situation. And yet, they are making their decisions based on the same information we all have access to: weather reports.
The absolute worst time to try to get good information about the weather from a television news program is on the eve of a snowstorm. In our area, the possibility of snow will call “breaking news” reports in the middle of the day. Reporters will rush to popular Metro stations, while the skies are still clear, and interview commuters about their thoughts on a storm that may or may not produce a lot of snow. How is that news? How is that even helpful?
Different news channels will take to different sources for their weather information, each one seeking to out-drama the other. One station will predict “as much as” 19 inches of snow. Another will say there’s a chance that the District and neighboring areas will see 2-6 inches. Even the National Weather Services will offer a probability band for the region. No one can ever say for certain how much snow will fall. So why do we blame the schools when they decide to close—or stay open? They are using the best information available!
Here is my suggestion: if the chance of at least 2 inches of snow (or equivalent ice) as reported by the National Weather Service is greater than 50%, schools should close. Why make it overly complicated? Moreover, the decision to close should be made by 6 pm the evening before when possible. I find it absurd that some local school districts wait until 6 am the morning of to make a decision. How is a parent supposed to make childcare and other arrangements on 2 hour’s notice?
My rule isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and it is something that everyone can easily evaluate. Just go check the National Weather Service’s report.
Snow days should be fun, especially for kids. They should go to bed knowing that they don’t have school the next day. Most kids are smart enough to know when a snow day might be imminent, and nothing is worse than a kid who can’t sleep because they don’t know if they will be heading off to school or not.
There should be only one school open on snow days: the school that teaches television meteorologists something about the weather. All television meteorologists should be required to attend while we are all out having fun in the snow.