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Weather Wuss Roundup--We're Still #1!

NEW YORK: A record 26 inches falls Sunday.

Today, from the New York City Board of Education site:

ALERT: NYC public schools will be open on Monday, February 13th. Buses will run on regular schedules, but delays should be expected.

PROVIDENCE, RI--It could have been worse, but the Providence area still managed to set a snowfall record for the day yesterday with 9.4 inches

From the Providence schools site:

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13: ONE HOUR DELAY All Providence Schools have a one hour delayed school opening today due to the inclement weather.

And on and on: Up to a foot in Delaware, yet only three school districts in the state close; the rest open after a one or two hour delay.

But here, where, with the exception of some freakishly big dumps in the outer Maryland suburbs, we got considerably less snow, all of the major school systems except the District are shut tight. For years, we've been told that the conditions of the roads were the key determining factor in the decision to close schools. But this storm goes a long way toward showing that that's just a bunch of hokum: The various counties and other jurisdictions generally did a terrific job of clearing this snow and with a leisurely 24-plus hours to prepare for the resumption of business Monday morning, just about every major thoroughfare in the area was quite clear. Traffic this morning was light and easy. Yet the schools still close. As many of you have noted in comments on the other snow-related posts on this blog, we are raising a generation of weather wusses. Why?

Fear. Lawyers fear lawsuits, administrators fear lawyers, teachers fear parents. All of them fear the wrath of that theoretical taxpayer who might accuse them of endangering a child by sending a bus out onto an icy street. Never mind that the streets weren't particularly icy. Never mind that ice is an ordinary byproduct of winter and one that any reasonable careful driver can manage. Never mind that the very same governments that run the schools were sanguine enough with ordering their employees to come to the office on the same day that the schools are shuttered.

Long before the first flake had fallen this weekend, on Friday evening, my kids' school notified parents that a music festival scheduled for Saturday would be cancelled. The reason, according to a missive from a parent volunteer: "Potential weather."

That phrase sums up the problem here. It's not as if we don't have enough real stuff to worry about in this little world of ours. We even have far better potential events to fret over. I'll take "potential terrorism" over "potential weather" any day, though even terrorism doesn't impel me to act unless it is either occurring, impending, or very concretely promised.

As it turned out, of course, not a flake of snow fell on Saturday. The festival was cancelled for naught. Luckily, the school has more of a spine than most, and so there I was at 7:30 this morning, driving car pool. We made it to school in record time and encountered zero traffic, zero ice, nothing but careful drivers who somehow knew that a bit of snow is actually not the same as terrorism.

By Marc Fisher |  February 13, 2006; 2:09 PM ET
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Hell, I didn't even bother to shovel my driveway. Just cleaned off the trusty Honda Civic and jumped in and took off. I can't belive this was an issue for anyone. And I grew up in Southern Virginia. I'm no transplant from flyover country.

Posted by: Jacknut | February 13, 2006 3:16 PM

Arlington Couty Schools are Open for Business today

Posted by: Ken | February 13, 2006 3:21 PM

First, places north of us have significantly more snow removal and salting vehicles than we do. They get snow more often. Should we invest our tax dollars in rarely-used equiment? No.

And as for "Never mind that ice is an ordinary byproduct of winter and one that any reasonable careful driver can manage." - how many unreasonable drivers do you see in this area on a regular day???? Way too many.

Posted by: Rob | February 13, 2006 3:33 PM

I live in eastern Fairfax County and the explanation we usually get is that conditions in the western part of the county may be different, which can affect the decision to close schools. I have no idea how true that it. I figure if Arlington County could open, so could Fairfax.

There was no reason for my kids to be out of school today. They could have gone to school because the roads and sidewalks were clear.

Posted by: Corinne | February 13, 2006 3:55 PM

Unreasonable drivers are hardly a reason to close down cities (geez, if that's a valid excuse, I can think of plenty more). If things remained open with business as usual, maybe people would stop squealing every time a cloud appeared in winter and learn how to be better drivers because they have no choice. I've lived here six years and it has snowed every winter (although, I laughed the first time I heard someone describe this as the "south" with the "we don't know how to handle it" excuse since I moved here from Florida where it NEVER snows and there truly aren't plows/trucks to handle it). There is a DOT facility near my house with a whole army of plows and sand trucks. With 24 hours to prepare for Monday, there was no excuse. Yes, I grew up in the midwest where nothing closed for winter and snow days were practically unheard of, so I do find this excitement silly, albeit entertaining. But otoh, it just snowed about a foot at my house and the roads were clear and fine by yesterday afternoon, so surprise - there is snow competence here after all. I think it's all a chicken little mindset here more than a reality.

Posted by: misschatter | February 13, 2006 4:11 PM

Did it possibly strike you that the reason you "encountered zero traffic" was that the kiddies were not in school? Those of us who commute every day shout hurrah when schools end for the year...the traffic level halves isnstantly.

It really makes me wonder if it hasn't become de-facto policy to close down the schools on iffy mornings, simply to clear the roads up to avoid accidents and corresponding utter gridlock.

Posted by: Uh, Marc | February 13, 2006 4:42 PM

I think schools were closed because of two things - one, we had snow days to go (and time running out to use them) and this way they didn't have to pay for overtime for snow removal from school parking lots on Sunday.

Never mind that testing is coming up, and the teachers can't afford to lose the teaching time.

Posted by: MoCo, MD | February 13, 2006 4:51 PM

Much like the military-industrial complex, there is also an unholy alliance between local news TV broadcasts and the supermarket/home improvement store industries. Every time any type of inclement weather comes our way, ratings shoot up on the newscasts, so why not hype the storm for all it is worth and scare people so they will keep watching? Furthermore February is a "sweeps month" meaning advertising revenue is determined by ratings.....meanwhile the grocery stores and the like are major advertisers on local newscasts, so not only do they benefit from the runs on the stores but also on the increased eyes watching the newscasts and their ads.

Posted by: Fairfax | February 13, 2006 5:21 PM

You go Marc! I grew up in Chicago & routinely experienced far worse winter weather than this, yet the schools almost NEVER closed In the schools' view it was the parents' responsibility to get the kids there, period (what a concept!) So, if the buses couldn't run you either walked or your parents took you. If you couldn't get your kid there or had a genuine concern for their safety, you called the school & told them your kid wasn't coming. And don't feed me this line about not having enough equipment/would be rarely used/bad drivers/etc. We get significant snow here at least once almost *every* year. And if you think the drivers are bad here, go try the Dan Ryan or the Northwest Tollway sometime. I've been here 12 years and am still amazed by what weather weenies folks are, especially school officials. GET OVER IT PEOPLE!!!

PS-kudos to DC public schools for staying open despite the fact that Metrobuses on some routes were diverted from regular schedules.

Posted by: MikeyA | February 13, 2006 5:45 PM

Absolutely no excuse for the suburban schools to have been closed today. The administrators should be ashamed of themselves. And, yes, kudos to DCPS for bucking the trend!

Posted by: Daniel | February 13, 2006 8:48 PM

You're right about the schools, but the comparison to terrorism makes no sense.

Posted by: bb | February 13, 2006 10:06 PM

My understanding is that the county has to be able to get all of its students to school safely, not just the ones in the area where you happen to live. The snow map for Montgomery County and for Howard both showed parts of the county with 14+ inches of snow. Columbia got 21 inches. Here in PG, we got somewhat less. However, our county includes extremely rural areas as well as areas that are low-lying and get flooded roads. A road that floods, then gets snowed upon while the temperature drops below freezing seems, to me, to constitute a significant hazard.

Comparisons to cities, particularly cities that routinely get more snow, are simply silly. As one of the posters already noted -- how much respect would you show for DC and suburban counties maintaining mighty fleets of snow-removal equipment appropriate to Buffalo, New York, when we get that kind of snow fall only once a decade or so? It would be an absurd waste of resources, so they don't do it, recognizing that there will be occasions when the equipment that they do maintain, will be inadequate. Cities have a high enough population density that the same per capita fleet of vehicles can clear the streets more quickly and effectively than in the more sparsely-populated counties, which have more miles of more widely-distributed roads than you have in a city.

A couple days ago you predicted 5 inches of snow. As an atmospheric scientist, I get a little weary of people moaning about the inaccuracy of weather reports, calling on memories from the 50's and 60's and ignoring the current state of the art. The TV news reports may have been goofy, but the National Weather Service predictions of 6-14 inches were available from Friday morning (as I think you acknowledged) and they seem pretty good, in retrospect. It seems like a minor mea culpa or sheepish apology about your own inadequate snow prediction is merited before you start to divert attention by curmudgeoning about how wimpish the school systems are.

Posted by: Tim | February 14, 2006 2:15 AM

Boston closed schools.

Other districts in RI closed schools.

One big probelm in this area (unlike NE) is that with county-wide school districts either the whole system is open or it is closed. If MoCo could open the close-in schools and keep the ones further out closed they'd be better off. Not to mention Loudon where parts of the school district are in rural mountains.

Divide the big districts into smaller pieces. That might help in school governance too, but I digress.

Posted by: md 20/400 | February 14, 2006 7:19 AM

I love it when schools are canceled because of snow. I take a vacation day and go sledding with my kids. I meet a lot of parents at the only hill in the neighborhood that I haven't talked to, well, since the last snowfall. Thanks Mr Fairfax School canceler for making Monday a great community building event. Fun was had by all. And for all you unfortunates who went to work while we played, I hope you had a safe and easy commute.

Posted by: Pat | February 14, 2006 9:08 AM

"Lawyers fear lawsuits, administrators fear lawyers, teachers fear parents. All of them fear the wrath of that theoretical taxpayer who might accuse them of endangering a child by sending a bus out onto an icy street."

Evidently NYC and Providence don't have any lawyers, parents, or taxpayers to generate sufficient degrees of fear. I'm sure we'd be happy to export some to them. Especially lawyers.

Posted by: Not A Lawyer | February 14, 2006 9:58 AM

Coming from a mountain area out west where the average annual snowfall is over 200 inches, I can't help wonder what the heck is the matter with people around here.

You all have this noodle headed notion that every flake of snow has to be plowed and salted before the road is safe, and that you need to make huge investments in snow removal equipment.

Where I lived snowfall of less than a foot or two generally doesn't get plowed for a few days. There is no need. Snow has good traction. Ice is what is slippery. But they use sand, not salt. If you haven't noticed, salt rots things out and kills all the plants.

What makes me laugh is the number of folks with huge 4WD vehicles all decked out for mud racing (but only get used on the street) who are afraid of a few flakes.

Yes, 4WD doesn't help you stop on ice. But common sense and a little sand at the intersection does. Y'all have front wheel drive, antilock brakes, all weather tires, and you hide in your houses and blame the government.

Weather wusses? The word isn't strong enough.

Posted by: Truth B Told | February 15, 2006 1:03 PM

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