Greater Greater Washington

Education


Map: How much snow does it take to cancel school?

This map shows approximately how much snow it takes to cancel school in various parts of the United States.


Map from Reddit user atrubetskoy.

On Reddit, the map's author explains the methodology:

[It's from a] combination of a /r/SampleSize survey, City-data.com threads, NOAA maps and some other local news sources.
So while it may not be the most precise or reliable data, it's still an interesting general look at snow closure patterns around the country.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Having lived in CT and MI (southeast) and now DC, this seems about right.

by JDC on Jan 30, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

It would be interesting to compare this map with one showing the median number of snowfalls per winter exceeding the levels shown. My guess is that communities are willing to tolerate a certain number of annual school closures due to inclement weather, and that closures exceeding that number become a powerful driver of community investment in snow removal equipment and other winter-weather preparation.

by FHE on Jan 30, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

It would be churlish to exclude Hawaii, but in truth, I'm guessing it's never happened there.

by Crickey7 on Jan 30, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

The numbers for Minnesota look about right, if we're talking strictly about snowfall. But in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains, you can often have school closed with lower snowfall totals than these if high winds are causing blowing and drifting snow. In outstate Minnesota (i.e. outside the Twin Cities), blowing and drifting snow are more dangerous than a heavy snowfall.

by Froggie on Jan 30, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

I wonder just how strongly this is correlated to average snowfall. That is to say that most places are only equipped to handle an average snowfall and anything that doesnt typically happen annually causes closures. And if you think about thats probably about how it hsould go.

by BTA on Jan 30, 2014 12:24 pm • linkreport

http://www.dmodjr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/United_states_average_annual_snowfall.jpg

Although it seems like the Dakotas don't get that much snow really. It must be their stubborn Scandinavian heritage that keeps them going? (Just kidding.)

by BTA on Jan 30, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

I couldn't help but notice Fauquier County is in the 3" range. WRONG!

by xtr657 on Jan 30, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

FHE, I don't think it's anything as complicated as that.

I have lived in two of the 24" plus counties on the map, including my current home.

It's not just that we have adequate snow removal capabilities as a community in the form of plows and decent tires on the buses. Residents are also used to the weather. Everyone in my neighborhood runs snow tires (and probably also AWD or 4WD). All the local children have some vaguely appropriate footwear and outerwear. We drive and walk on the snow every day, so we're pretty used to it.

It's actually not that tough to be prepared for this stuff, so it always amazed me that DC is caught flat-footed and panic-stricken when winter comes, as it does most every year. I guess the problem is that it only takes a handful of jerks running bald tires and yanking on the steering wheel in a spastic manner to snarl traffic for everybody in the 'burbs, given how close to the breaking point the local road network is at rush hour on any given day.

It would

by DCExPat on Jan 30, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ Crickey7:It would be churlish to exclude Hawaii, but in truth, I'm guessing it's never happened there.

Snow in Hawaii: It Happens More Often Than You Think
http://www.wunderground.com/news/snow-hawaii-20131219

Not sure if the school close, but Hawaii is the only place where I've seen snow while floating in the water on a tropical beach. Haleakala is over 10k feet. That's about height of the Continental Divide in Yellowstone. Mauna Kea and Loa are over 13k feet.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

The real question is how close this map correlates with a map of actual snowfall in the US.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

It's a fun map and all, but delineating by a foot at the upper end is really ridiculous. Many, many schools in upstate NY will and do close for less than a foot of snow. And I'd argue that with the exception of a narrow band along I-81 north of Syracuse, virtually anywhere that gets TWO FEET of snow in a short time period will have school (along with a whole hell of a lot of other things) closed.

You'd also have to adjust for time of year, too -- 6 inches in October or April is very different than 6 inches in January.

by Matt on Jan 30, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

I lived in some very blue places in Pennsylvania for most of my life. The totals are skewed a little higher than you'd think because snow was usually a two hour delay. Cold was what closed school. We had lots of two hour delays.

by Another Nick on Jan 30, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

The interesting thing about the map is that it uses counties, which makes sense for most states, but in New England, for the most part the school districts are town-based. And the decision to open or close is made by each individual town.

This has the result that closings are more closely aligned with actual conditions, as opposed to places like MD or VA where conditions, say, in the far western rural parts of MoCo can result in closures in Bethesda.

by TM on Jan 30, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

I'm in Tallahassee, FL and this is about right. They cancelled classes and closed schools yesterday but there wasn't even any snow. There was sleet and a bit of ice so it probably was for the best.

by Nathan Hicks on Jan 30, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

Cool. Next step would be to overlay it with the frequency with which that much snow falls per storm, historically. I wonder if "snow days per year" varies much across the country.

That might give insight into whether some areas "should" invest more in snow-plowing equipment etc., and vice versa.

by JDAntos on Jan 30, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised counties in IA, NE and PA cancel school for three inches - always thought of these as snowy areas.

by Scotty McP on Jan 30, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper.

Point taken. Still, I doubt there are many children living above 10,000 feet.

by Crickey7 on Jan 30, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

Not many schools (or houses) at 10,000+ feet in Hawaii.

The all-time recorded low temperature for Honolulu (on the island of Oahu, where the vast majority of the population lives) is 52 degrees. Honolulu official temperatures are measured at the airport, which is at sea level.

Off-topic: in Honolulu, even 60 degrees is a bit cool. Most housing is unheated and uninsulated, so if it's 60 degrees outdoors, it's 60 degrees indoors too.

by John Henry Holliday on Jan 30, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

My homecounty used to be in the 6" range... then a few incidents happened and now we're definitely just barely in the 3" range. But 24" O.o ...That's some wicked snow clearing equipment up there.

by Bossi on Jan 30, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Matt The interesting thing about the map is that it uses counties, which makes sense for most states, but in New England, for the most part the school districts are town-based. And the decision to open or close is made by each individual town.

Every place I've lived outside of the DC area (Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota) does their school systems by town or Independent School District, much smaller than county-level. People tell me county-wide school districts are a distinctly mid-Atlantic thing.

Although to be fair, I've found few places that have such variety of urban/suburban/rural and geography ranging from pretty flat to extensive hills that suburban DC counties have.

by Birdie on Jan 30, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

The time of the snowfall also plays a major role. I grew up in the snow belt east of Cleveland, Ohio, and the only days we expected off were when heavy snow fell before and during the morning bus runs. If it snowed a foot, but ended at 10 pm or midnight there was a good chance we would have school.

by Ohiohoya on Jan 30, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised counties in IA, NE and PA cancel school for three inches - always thought of these as snowy areas.

Depends on where you are in the state. The southeast corner gets about a third of the annual snowfall as the northwest corner.

http://www.weather.gov/images/ctp/features/newAnnualSnow.jpg

by Another Nick on Jan 30, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

You'd also have to adjust for time of year, too -- 6 inches in October or April is very different than 6 inches in January.
That isn't said enough.
It also doesn't matter where you are, the first snow/ice event of the season is going to be significant for drivers regardless of how "used to it" they claim to be.

by selxic on Jan 30, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

Just as well Hawaii doesn't get significant snow. The entire state is a single school district, which would make snow closures an inter-island nightmare.

by aces on Jan 30, 2014 9:13 pm • linkreport

Interesting that this tracks very closely with Colin Woodard's map of the 11 "American Nations"

Woodard defined these "nations" as being distinct cultures from one another, and the attitudes towards winter weather seems to go right along with it.

by David Versel on Jan 31, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

Which parts of PA are prone to school closures of <3 inches and the ones that it takes >6 inches before they even THINK of closing?

BTW: Please remove the spam captcha.

by Kyle on Jan 31, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

Well, we live in the northern mountains in NC and are a county-wide district that always has a lot of snow days (up to 28 one year). The problem is that snowfall can vary by several inches across the district because of the different microclimates. Even if we have excellent roads for the in-town school, we close because travel to other schools in the district is difficult or dangerous. And recently, although the roads were cleared, the break and fuel lines in the buses were reportedly frozen.

by Elizabeth on Jan 31, 2014 5:31 pm • linkreport

This is a bit misleading in the fact that many of the areas that are shaded in the light blue/green with 1" tend to get to get freezing rain and ice preceding the actual snowfall. The ice is what tends to close schools.

by Cathy on Feb 1, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

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