The Science and Art of Snow Days

Photo of several school buses covered in snow
Category - Education, General
by Lisa Eifert on December 7th, 2017

When the weather forecast calls for snow, many households are abuzz with the question, “Will they or won’t they cancel school?”

While snow day calls may sometimes seems arbitrary, there’s actually a method to the madness, and it starts long before that first snowflake falls. Let’s take a closer look.

A Science-Backed Art

There are many variables that go into meteorology and the process of forecasting the weather. Changes to air, wind and precipitation can rapidly alter the forecast and complicate the ability to predict what will end up on the ground. When you factor in Mother Nature’s unpredictability, calling a snow day is as much an art as it is a science. This can occasionally result in snow-less snow days and their converse — treacherous, white-knuckled commutes through white-out conditions. Of course, the goal is to avoid both of these situations.

Communication Counts

As a storm approaches, the National Weather Service delivers regular updates to state and local entities. Public safety leaders consider these updates along with a variety of additional factors — such as timing and intensity of the storm and whether the forecast calls for more precipitation and/or changing temperatures — to assess whether snow plows will be able to safely clear the streets of snow, ice and other dangerous conditions. Extreme cold, lack of heat and electricity, and the potential of falling power lines can also impact the decision-making process.

While snow day calls are typically made by the local jurisdiction, they are heavily guided by decisions made at the state level. For example, if state offices are closed and administrators recommend that schools do the same, individual districts are likely to follow. Each district must also factor in its own conditions. Districts not only keep in contact with local road crew, but may also delegate an employee to go out into the storm and personally assess the primary and secondary road conditions. Ultimately, it’s judgment call on the part of the school superintendent, but it’s far from an uninformed one.

None of these decisions are made arbitrarily, and all take into account the “trickle down” affect upon local businesses and events when school is canceled and kids are kept home. Still, public safety trumps all.

An Ongoing Process

Even when the official decision to cancel school is made, the work isn’t over yet. Expedient and comprehensive communication of this message is an essential part of the process. While listening to the local radio station can be a chore and phone trees notoriously stall and fail, alert services and auto dialers, like One Call Now, ensure that parents and staff are quickly informed about weather-related delays and closures.

Contrary to what kids might think, snow days do not occur to give them some extra time for sleeping in and making snowmen. The ultimate goal? To protect children, families and communities along every step of the process — from assessing weather forecasts for safety to efficiently disseminating cancellation messages.

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