Snow Days?
January 5, 2005 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Do you snowday? Having grown up in the desert, I'm always thrilled, as a school teacher, to be given a snowday by my adopted high-altitude hometown. If your community occasionally does likewise, what's the protocol? How much snow must fall? Are there other variables that come into play? For folks in perpetually snowy environs, what happens to your community once the flakes begin to fall? More importantly, if you, as an adult are the occasional recipent of a snowday, what's your unplanned diversion of choice?

here (flagstaff, arizona, elev. 7000 ft) we get the word from whoever-makes-these-decisions at about 6:00 am, based, it seems to me solely on road conditions as opposed to snow depth or temperature; if the roads are icy and likely to stay icy all day, it's a snowday. on a typical snowday, the entire town seems to slow to a crawl and, based on my observations at the local ski area, tend to head toward the mountain for a day of skiing, regardless of occupation. this happens 3-5 times a year.
posted by RockyChrysler to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Heh. Not a high-altituder here, but in Portland, OR there only has to be a chance of snow for some schools to cancel. That makes sense, because I think the whole City of Portland has something like four snow plows in it, and they never plow residential streets.

However, I moved here from New England. In the town I lived in in Connecticut, for them to close or cancel school, the roads had to be impassible or be predicted to be impassible for school busses.

As an adult, for work to cancel ... well, I'm the owner, so it's "Can I get to my car without falling on my ass. If yes, I'm going to work. If no, I'm not, and employees are not expected to show." Back when I used to work for a big corporation, their offices were near a particularly cold part of town. If the roads and bridges in that area were slick, then they would make showing up optional.

On days when I can't get to work, I might work from home (the wonders of Broadband...) or I might just make a cup of tea, put my feet up in nice warm slippers, light a fire if the wind's not howling, and otherwise generally enjoy a day where I'm not required to do anything.
posted by SpecialK at 7:44 PM on January 5, 2005

In Kansas City, the superintendents of the local school boards get up at 4:30am and check the roads and weather forecasts. If they think the school buses can make it through the snow/ice, there's school. If not, no school.
posted by gramcracker at 7:51 PM on January 5, 2005

Just outside Boston here. My commute sucks on a good day, so I snow day if I have to. I did last Monday, actually.

There's no point of spending 4 hours sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, roundtrip. Might as well stay off the road, not waste my time and let the snow plow crews get their job done.

My criteria is basically the current ground conditions (how much has already fallen), the immediate forecast (has the storm passed yet, is it really icy, etc), how bad the roads/traffic is, and how long is it going to take to dig out.

Generally, since we tend to be house-bound if the conditions are bad enough to warrant a snowday, the diversion of choice is sleep. A free day in the middle of the week? If you can, you have to take advantage of the extra napping time. After that, maybe it's relaxing with a hot beverage and vegging out in front of the tv.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:52 PM on January 5, 2005

As a high schooler in Calgary, Alberta, I can tell you that neither 3 feet of snow, nor -44C (with windchill) temperatures (different days of course) was enough to cancel school. Neither was the day after the heavy snowfall, when much of low-lying Calgary had flooded schools. Apparently we're supposed to be a sturdy bunch.

Here in Davis, California, frost on the ground is enough for some professors to declare class "optional".
posted by ruwan at 7:56 PM on January 5, 2005

I grew up in southern New Mexico, and if there was an inch of snow on the ground school got called. My husband, however, laughs when he hears that -- he grew up here in Chicago and they hardly ever got snow days. It's been snowing here all day and will through the night. I doubt they will call school.

Of course, when we wake up in the morning our residential street has already been plowed, so it's a trade off.
posted by sugarfish at 7:57 PM on January 5, 2005

Moving from Portland, OR to Ohio was a bit of a shock. In Portland, we would get 1/4in and the city would practically shut down. Here we would get inches and I would still have to walk the 1/2 mile from my dorm to class. Classes were only cancelled once the county was at a Level 3 emergency (only emergency vehicles allowed on the road) and that only happened once while I was in college. Now that I am out of school and work for the government, I don't get snow days... ever.
posted by miss meg at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2005

Here's the official snow day rules for my old school in rural Manitoba. Yes, it's in a crappy file format. The relevant part is that it has to -40C (-46C w/ wind chill) or the highways have to be closed. Most of the schools in Manitoba were cancelled today.

Also, 'snow day' is a bit of misnomer in these parts, as the infrastructure is such that a few flakes are not harmful. The danger lies in having a bus break down or get stuck, leaving the children to freeze to death or having to walk for miles to the nearest home.
posted by sleslie at 8:07 PM on January 5, 2005

Here in Portland, Maine I think the schools sometimes do snowdays, but everyone else slogs through. We have a very good, professional clean-up operation and most people are used to driving in the snow... it's just a fact of life.
posted by selfnoise at 8:15 PM on January 5, 2005

As a kid in central New Jersey, we would generally have school closures if there was more than 2-3 inches of snow on the roads before school started. I know that in New York City, public schools almost never close, since the streets are well-plowed.
posted by driveler at 8:32 PM on January 5, 2005

Having grown up significantly this past decade, my wife and I have come to the very sensible conclusion that we set our own snowdays, regardless what employers and others might think.

To wit, if we figure it's going to be dangerous getting to work, it's a snowday, and to hell with anyone else's opinion.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 PM on January 5, 2005

Middle of Montana checking in: I've been here for 3 winters so far, and have not seen any large organization, school, or employer close for a snow-day. I've seen a few businesses and school have late-starts (usually 10:00 am), but only a couple of times.
posted by davidmsc at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2005

I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, pop. 600k or so. :::waves to sleslie::: In the twelve years I went to public schools there, we had precisely one snow day. Snow's just a fact of life up there, and as sleslie said there's a well-established infrastructure to deal with it. Winnipeg budgets $3.5 million CAN each year for snow removal, and contracts in the neighbourhood of 250 machines to do the job each year (graders and front-end loaders, mostly — I don't think I ever saw a "conventional" snowplow in Winnipeg.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2005

I grew up in Northern British Columbia. Our schools never closed because of inclement weather - the expectation that schools would be open and providing a safe haven for all students. However, bus service, and we were in a ruralish area, so most of the kids who went to my high school bused in, was cancelled if it was -35 or below at the airport at 6:00AM. They'd announce that on all the radio stations so if it was going to be cold, the kids would get up in the morning and turn on the radio to catch the weather report.

On no bus days, bus kids definitely stayed home, and attendance was optional for non-bused kids. The teachers were not permitted to hold tests or quizzes, or demand the submission of coursework. They could teach lessons, but had to recover the material later for the students who missed anyway, so mostly I think the few people who showed up hung out in the gym or the library or something. I'm not actually sure, though, since I was never there, because I was definitely a bus kid.

I just looked up the current weather policy for that district, and it's now non-specific, in that the -35 criteria has gone away, but I suspect they probably still cancel buses for inclement weather.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2005

Seems to be a topic native Manitobans are drawn to- count me in!

I remember very few snow days growing up in Winnipeg. As shown above, it had to be pretty bad. (It took an act of God to even have indoor recess!) But there were a couple- one of those days we couldn't even open the front door. So as diversions go, I'm a coccooner.
Now that I live in Oklahoma, they close the city down several times a year, usually more for ice than snow. If it's just snow, I use it as an opportunity to show off my driving skills and shop in empty WalMarts and sit in empty theatres. If it's ice (like tonight), I hole up with good food and something to watch.
posted by wallaby at 9:19 PM on January 5, 2005

Never had a snow day here in Utah. Sounds interesting.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:41 PM on January 5, 2005

When I grew up, in Buffalo, NY, I think we needed 6-8" to cancel school, but it all had to come between about midnight and 5 am so the plows couldn't get around.

Now that I live in Fort Worth, TX, it takes about 1/4" to shut the schools down.
posted by Doohickie at 9:57 PM on January 5, 2005

Here in Portland, Maine I think the schools sometimes do snowdays, but everyone else slogs through. We have a very good, professional clean-up operation ...

Hah! No offense intended to you personally, selfnoise, but are you effing kidding me? Portland has THE WORST snow-removal/sanding-salting crew I've ever observed in a northern town. The problem is especially bad on the downtown peninsula, where most people get around on foot.

/locals-only bitching.
posted by damn yankee at 10:13 PM on January 5, 2005

At Colorado Timberline Academy, an awesome boarding school with fewer than 35 students, a snow day entails everybody getting up early and get this:

Going to the mountain and Skiing / Snowboarding in fresh powder for the whole freaking day.

Best. Idea. Ever.
posted by blasdelf at 10:18 PM on January 5, 2005

Hmmm... I work for a school district and my boss would be the one publicizing a snow day (his boss is the supernintendo), I'll ask him how they decide.
posted by drezdn at 10:38 PM on January 5, 2005

Seattle is such a hilly place that is nearly impossible to travel with even a few inches of snow, adding to Seattle's already horrible traffic.
posted by crusiera at 10:41 PM on January 5, 2005

Fairbanks, Alaska: I can recall one day in the past five years when schools were closed due to weather, and it was because of ice, not snow. And even then most of the rest of town chugged away. I do think the children are on restricted playground time when it gets below -25F, and I know that a lot of after school sports are canceled when it gets that cold.

Otherwise, we grit our teeth against the cold and laugh at the rest of the US closing down for a light flurry or two. We are Alaskans, damnit.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:43 PM on January 5, 2005

I've lived all over the States and the the issue is about what a given area is equipped to handle. When I lived in the northern Wisconsin snow belt, where 300" each winter was the average, it took a lot to shut things down! I grew up in southern Michigan, and there it was rare for more than schools to close, but sometimes even the GM plants closed.

When I lived in NYC I was shocked the first time my office closed early for weather. I learned the reason though, ice prevents the railroads from moving, stranding commuters in the city. Manhattan is a beautiful place to be in a major blizzard, and I'm not joking.

As a child, snow days were absolutely MAGICAL. We would be out in it, playing. Possibly slogging to a hill with sleds and tobaggans and saucers, oh my! To this day I adore snowy winters. Haven't seen one since leaving Wisconsin in 1996.
posted by Goofyy at 11:29 PM on January 5, 2005

Back in high school in rural Indiana, I was good friends with the superintendent's son and it was explained to me that the decision was solely at the superintendent's discretion pretty much throughout the state. An interesting side note is that there was a secret word used when notifying the radio and television stations of a snow day to prevent students from phoning in their own snow days.
posted by jperkins at 11:34 PM on January 5, 2005

Another Bostonian weighing in. I've found that it depends on where you work. When I worked for a university, we had a handful of snow-days called in one winter. Working for a law firm now, I imagine it has to be a full-on blizzard for them to cancel, time being money and all.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:23 AM on January 6, 2005

I grew up in rural Minnesota and was always dismayed at how much snow had to fall before school would be canceled. The primary concern for my district was getting the kids who lived way out in the country in to town safely, and whether they would be able to get them back. The district budgeted for 3 snow days a year, but typically did not use all of them. It would take a combination of very low temperatures, at least 3 inches of snowfall, and high winds to really make things dangerous.

A few weeks ago here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, an icestorm hit just as rush hour began. That day, at least at my workplace, was treated as a snow day, meaning that people who couldn't make it to work in a reasonable amount of time were free to work from home or take a day off.
posted by Coffeemate at 6:08 AM on January 6, 2005

I live on the Canadian Prairies, too *waves to all the Manitobans* and they never cancel school (or work) for snow alone. Bus service in rural areas will get cancelled, but not the schools & offices shutting down. Very occasionally, schools shut down due to extreme cold. And I mean extreme. Yesterday it was -51 C here (including windchill, -39 C temp only) and no schools or businesses in the city closed.

Last week, we had a blizzard here with 10 inches of snow, high winds, -40 with windchill. Once the police were advising against travel both in and out of the city, schools and major offices started to send people home. Some businesses closed (even WalMart!) But I work for the governement and we didn't close down - just ran with a skeleton staff. And only for 1/2 of a day. I spent my 'snow day' trying to get home from work.

**for the Americans that don't know, -40 is approx the same temp in both Celcius or Farenheight. And the freezing/melting point is 0 in Celcius. Just to give you a clue of how cold we are talkin'.
posted by raedyn at 6:55 AM on January 6, 2005

I grew up outside of Boston where I had to take the bus to school and we didn't get a snow day unless there was about 6-8 inches of snow on the ground between when we went to bed and when we got up. The snow closures were announced on the radio very early in the morning and I knew exactly where my school fell in the alphabetical closures so I'd know as soon as they said the school after mine that I had to go in, or didn't. The best thing about snow days was that they were like weekends except you were already up at the crack of freaking dawn to listen to the radio, so you had a whole long day free to play in the snow. We had a superintendent who made the decisions who also drove a four wheel drive Cherokee so we had to go to school in some really abysmal conditions. There were days when buses were sliding off the roads etc.

Now I work at a public library and even though our director is a total freak about us all coming to work no matter what the weather [I claim we are not the freaking post office, but she begs to differ] my general rule of thumb is that I won't go in to work if the National Weather Service tells people to stay off the roads. I drive over a ski mountain to get to work so sometimes I'll drive past all manner of poorly equipped cars and trucks in ditches. I was always surprised when Seattle would shut the city down for just a few inches of snow, but then I got to ride on one of those articulated buses in the snow and understood. The driver actually tried to get up a big hill [from Ballard to Fremont, for any locals] and couldn't do it and just put us all off the bus at the bottom of the hill in the snowstorm and said "sorry"
posted by jessamyn at 7:04 AM on January 6, 2005

I lived in a very small town (pop. 450) in Michigan, and each school had its own mystical criteria for having a snowday. My school was rather stoic and must have had top-of-the-line schoolbuses, somehow. One lucky school, in a town twenty miles northwest of us, had a snowday seemingly every week. Even now, when I hear the radio dj announcing the list of school cancellations and delays, my heart skips a beat and I have to listen excitedly to the whole list.
posted by oldtimey at 7:55 AM on January 6, 2005

In my school district, the decision for school to close is made by 6:00am. I think the roads have to be bad enough that the buses wouldn't be able to make it to the schools for school to close...if there's a lot of snow but the roads are plowed, school is open.

Indiana University's policy seemed to be "We Never, Ever Cancel Class." I can think of only once that it happened when I was there, and even then, they canceled classes from 5pm-8am. That's right, just the evening classes, of which there aren't that many. That was it. Even on days when every other school in Bloomington was closed (and half the state, including many of the other universities in state, was shut down), and even the administrative offices at IU were closed, class was not cancelled. Some professors would cancel class, but they made that decision individually.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:04 AM on January 6, 2005

I recall school closing for K-12 being somewhat... random, as there were days where everyone came to school depressed because they were SURE it was going to be a snow day, and days that were snow days which ended up being fine. I think this was because it was determined either early in the morning (6 AM) or occasionally the night before. We had a bit of a reputation of rarely closing, though the winner on that had to be Godwin School District. Of course, being a small, urban district, they don't have buses. So that effects things.

My university closing was a rare occurence indeed, though I think it happened once while I was there on account of weather. Which was impressive, since the last time it had closed was a good thirty years ago when there was really no choice (all the stores were closed, people were delivering groceries on snowmobiles to those in greatest need, etc.). They also held the distinction of not cancelling any classes on September 11 2001 (except evening off-campus ones), when even the mall closed.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:06 AM on January 6, 2005

Interesting you should ask this: I woke up a few minutes ago to discover Vancouver's first snowfall of the year, and I logged on to the internet to find out the phone number to call and find out if the university's open -- with a quick ask.mefi peek.
posted by ori at 9:16 AM on January 6, 2005

They also held the distinction of not cancelling any classes on September 11 2001 (except evening off-campus ones), when even the mall closed.

Indiana University did that too. I don't think they'd have cancelled class even if something had happened on campus! A lot of professors cancelled class or if class was held, it kind of turned into a discussion of the events and normal assignments were held over.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:22 AM on January 6, 2005

IMO, as an interior BC-dweller that has seen BCTV's reports on Vancouver's occasional snowfalls, every snowfall should be a snowday in that city. My god, the rest of you MeFI folk wouldn't believe how utterly incompetent Vancouverites are at driving in anything but pristine conditions.

Sure as shooting, BCTV will be showing its annual footage of mental deficients driving around on summer tires, at excessive speed, into each other.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on January 6, 2005

I live in Asheville, NC now, but I used to live in Baltimore, and the two cities seem to respond the same way to snow, namely: vehement denial every summer "It never snows here so we don't need to invest in plows or sand or anything" and panic every winter "It's snowing! Oh my god help! Call in the national guard! Run away, run away!"

And in the beginning of the winter they cancel school as soon as the first flake falls from the sky, or is predicted, but by spring they're jaundiced, and even 2" or 3", which would have shut the entire city down in December, barely raises an eyebrow in February. I love snow days and sitting there with my son at 7 in the morning watching the names scroll by to see if school is closed. . . but I rarely get to actually stay home, since my boss makes the call based on whether she can get out of her driveway or not, and she lives in the wealthy neighborhood where they actually plow, unlike my neighborhood, where they usually don't bother. But we still get one almost every year, yay, I can't wait! Coffee and Jamesons and the internets. . . or curl up in bed with a book. Lovely lovely.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:02 AM on January 6, 2005

Once, when I was in elementary school, it snowed so hard (Orem UT) that they let us out after a half-day of school. My friend and I weren't sure our parents could come get us, so we started walkign home. The drifts were easily over my 7-8 year old head, lower spots at least up to my waist. We were soooo stoked. About halfway through the half-mile or so home, my mom found us.

Other than that, I don't recall snow ever closing anything here. People continue to commute and wreck.
posted by weston at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2005

School closing in Portland, Maine (Hi SelfNoise!) takes into account the kids that walk to school and are in danger from idiots who shouldn't drive in slick conditions.

Jessamyn, I can't believe the bus driver made you get off the bus - I hope you were close to your destination. In an ice storm a few years ago, a city bus slid all the way onto the sidewalk in front of the newspaper building.

This thread is Lucky - work just announced closing early due to snow and ice. Curling up with a good book is nice. Curling up with a good book, when you could be working is nice.
posted by theora55 at 11:33 AM on January 6, 2005

I grew up in Wyoming where we have some big snowfalls and very cold temps in winter. I NOT ONCE got a snow day from school. Yes, I am bitter.
posted by split atom at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2005

Once in Edmonchuk there was a snow day. Only they didn't really get the message out. And it was -40C.

A whole lot of kids were stranded, and shit flew.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:44 PM on January 6, 2005

I grew up in suburban Minnesota, and school was usually canceled by the superintendent on more-or-less whim. We rarely got out of school entirely, but late starts or early closings were a little more common. They wanted the roads plowed and to get the elementary students home before it got too late. I do remember one great winter when the governor canceled school across most of the state for two or three days in a row. Rumor was because it was "too cold for children to be outside."
posted by lorimt at 7:44 PM on January 6, 2005

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