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Are DC-area schools winter weather wimps?

I once asked a retired school superintendent who had worked all over the Northeast what was the hardest part of his job? Knowing all the challenges of running large urban school systems, I was surprised when he said it was the wrenching decision of whether to close schools for weather-related reasons.

Photo by Christina's Play Place on Flickr.

Closing schools means lost critical learning time and parents having to provide impromptu child care, often missing work. Keeping schools open can be dangerous for children and staff trying to get to school or resulting in them getting stuck at school. (The superintendent I spoke with recounted horror stories of a school full of people huddling in a gym with limited food and no electricity).

Suburban school systems are more vulnerable than DC. The city tends to get slightly higher temperatures and less precipitation, but more importantly, a densely settled city should require fewer and shorter motor vehicle trips to transport kids to school.

This is where people in walkable neighborhoods can get their gloat on. (I happily dragged a sled around the corner to pick up fresh groceries during the snowpocalypse of February 2010, while suburbanites survived on canned goods).

But even DC schools have teachers who live in the suburbs and students exercising choice who attend schools outside their neighborhoods.

As a New England native, I would say as long as cars and buses can move (albeit slowly), they can get to school. (The only hazard for kids who walk to school was the strong temptation to stop and play in the snow). That usually meant anything less than one foot of snow was fine. Black ice, the worst non-snow impediment, slows down vehicles but doesn't stop them.

There will be car crashes, but there are crashes every day on the roads. Just drive carefully. Be flexible on arrival times. Fear of power outage or actual power outage or loss of water is reason to close a school. Anything less, however, is just wimping out. If we can't find our way to school during messy but passable winter weather, we should re-evaluate our school density and planning.

What is your cutoff? When is it too cold or too messy on the roads to keep schools open?

Steven Glazerman is an economist who studies education policy and specializes in teacher labor markets. He has lived in the DC area off and on since 1987 and settled in the U Street neighborhood in 2001. He is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, but any of his views expressed here are his own and do not represent Mathematica. 


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Are DC-area schools winter weather wimps?

Yes. Did you know there is a DCPS wide policy that there will be no outdoor recess if the temp is <40d.F?

by Tina on Jan 26, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

Another reason DCPS is so reluctant to close is that many students count on the schools for their meals.

by jcm on Jan 26, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

I'm from outside Boston too, so I chortle at the minimal amounts of snow needed to close schools. The storm we're about to get is one that would be a minor inconvenience--people would leave early, maybe, but on plowed roads, and tomorrow morning there would be no issues--everything is plowed.

That said, the reason a minimal snow closes schools is precisely because of your last sentence: The DC area doesn't have adequate plows to handle significant snows so the roads quickly become unsafe. That means you have to close the schools.

by ah on Jan 26, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

One of the biggest city hazards I see (and a huge pet peeve of mine) is people that do not clean the sidewalks in a timely fashion. This often creates very hazardous walking conditions. Numerous people then opt to walk on the clearer streets which endangers everyone.

I think in an urban environment we need to put more city resources into creating a walkable environment in adverse weather conditions. It would be fabulous if everyone took responsibility for clearing sections adjacent to them, but past experience shows they won't.

by Nicole on Jan 26, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

I grew up in Minneapolis, and I don't recall ever getting a single snow day. We would listen on the radio, and hear about the rural and suburban districts being closed, but we always had school.

There were a couple of snowstorms that might have resulted in closed schools had the happened on a school day (one in particular I remember was over Christmas break).

But we walked to school, and it wasn't that far. I suppose the teachers had the toughest time getting to work.

by JackRussell on Jan 26, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Given our usual winters, that translates into 2-3 snow days a year, which is about what I remember from growing up in snowy country. Places like DC shouldn't overinvest in street plows. Do you look like a wimp -- yes. Do you also save money -- yes.

by charlie on Jan 26, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

I don't have any kids, so my perspective on the issue is limited because no doubt I might feel pretty strongly if I were a parent. Some of my opinions on this issue come from talking to my mother, who was a teacher in the Fairfax County schools until she retired last year.

The limiting factor in the suburbs is typically whether the school buses can operate with sufficient safety, and the problem you get into with some of the counties is the widely divergent road conditions throughout a jurisdiction. The vast majority of kids in the suburbs ride school buses, at least until they're old enough to drive to school.

I'll cite Fairfax County as my example because it's where I live. The roads in the parts of the county closer to the Beltway, or inside the Beltway, are vastly different in terms of terrain, width, twistiness, and so forth than roads in many parts of the county further out; in addition, the roads further out may have minimal space to either side of the lane if a bus experiences a problem, or they may have a ditch. Consider the roads around Clifton or north of Georgetown Pike in the Great Falls area. Many of us who live in the closer-in parts of the county will look outside and wonder why in the world the county is changing the school schedule, but the people who have to make the decision are making it based on all the roads, and I suppose that's fair. Consider today's forecast whereby northwestern Fairfax County is projected to get potentially double the snow forecast for the southeastern part. I think it's also probably fair to acknowledge that the vehicle dynamics associated with driving a school bus are VERY different from those associated with driving a car and that the school buses' handling in even a dusting of snow is probably a lot worse than a car's. Also, in Virginia no doubt the governance system where VDOT is responsible for all the road maintenance except in the independent cities, Arlington County, and Henrico County surely contributes to the problem in that many of the lesser roads don't get treated but still have to be served by the school buses.

When I was growing up I always wondered why, if Fairfax County's schools can be divided into four administrative areas (called "Area I" through "Area IV"), school closings or schedule revisions couldn't be done on an area-by-area basis. I suppose now that I've grown up I understand the logistical nightmare of having different parts of the school district on different schedules (e.g., you don't want Area I having used up all their built-in snow days while Area IV hasn't). I also recognize that there is a magnet school (Thomas Jefferson High) that didn't exist when I was a kid, and the school district has to deal with the problem of transporting kids longer distances to and from there.

What it really boils down to is that school officials are damned if they do and damned if they don't in terms of dealing with the weather. They're going to come under fire either way. I think their worst nightmare, though, is a school bus accident in which kids are injured, and so they err on the side of caution. In our litigious society, I can't say I blame them.

With that said, I don't know how the road conditions are out in the more rural parts of the county so far today, but when I heard schools were closed I shook my head. I do think the school districts are a LOT quicker to close down these days than they were in the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up. Back then we had a fair number of early closings when weather rolled in, but it always seemed like they erred on the side of opening school and then closing early if needed. Sure, they guessed wrong sometimes--I'll never forget how it took FOREVER to get home in that horrible snowstorm on the day the Air Florida plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, and that was with school closing early. I remember one time in high school we got to school in the morning (school started at 7:30) only for the county to close the schools 20 minutes later. I suspect the big difference these days is the threat of lawsuits. School officials seem to be a lot more intimidated by parents nowadays than they were 30 years ago.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

I wonder also if sending kids home early is more of a problem with more households having both parents working outside the house (assuming two parents to begin with). If kids get out early it means a parent has to get home too. If school is canceled then the parent just doesn't go into work.

by ah on Jan 26, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

At first I wondered why schools were canceled, especially MCPS... but then this morning's weather warranted a 2 hour delay and knowing of the impending snow storm and that schools would have to close early, really what would be the point...

Also, people in this area cannot drive worth beans; the less vehicles out on the roads, the better I say...

by chi on Jan 26, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

You put this in your article, but DC handles the snow just fine. It's the 'burbs that crumple like a cheap suit.

by TimK on Jan 26, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

If kids get out early it means a parent has to get home too.

I think that's a bit of a societal change in the past 30 years, too. I suppose with little kids (up to maybe 10 years old) it's always been important to have a parent home, but I recall a lot of us used to come home in the afternoon, at least once we reached age 8 or 9 or so, when no parent was home and nobody thought twice about it. Nowadays it seems like a lot of kids aren't even allowed to play outside without a parent sitting there watching at all times.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

DC does not handle snow "just fine". It handles it in way that is understandable for a city that gets ~15" on average, in 2-3 storms/year. The problems are smaller for DC itself because there is more public transportation available and it is easier to walk places.

by ah on Jan 26, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

I agree... pretty wimpy. I grew up in DC and think the fear of snow around here has only gotten worse. But this could also have something to do with the region's increasing sprawl... Loudoun County and Fauquier County schools always closed, even back then, but now those areas are increasingly "important". Further, the local news media will go into a mass hysteria because there are a couple of slippery roads in Leesburg, VA when in DC or Arlington the roads are clear.

Honestly, I think we set a bad example for our kids by closing schools when it's not really necessary... How do we expect these kids to behave later on when they have a real job and it snows 2 or 3 inches??

Growing up in DC in the 80s, I remember having school pretty much always, unless there was actually 4-6"+ of snow on the ground in the morning and the forecast was for more snow to come. Maybe a 2-hour delay for 3-4" already on the ground. We never got out of school b/c of some silly forecast that snow COULD be on the way!

by nwdcguy on Jan 26, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

In short, yes. The D.C. region is stuck in a weather-wimp mentality. It seems to me that if someone works for an entity where profits or productivity are irrelevant (schools, government, et al), then they don't hesitate to shut things down at the threat of a snowflake.

... meanwhile every other workplace 'miraculously' finds a way to stay open and serve society. Imagine that.

by Josh C. on Jan 26, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

Plus the liability, can you imagine the fall out if a bus slid and crashed injuring students. Or what the school would have to do if half the teachers at school couldn't get to school the same time as the students? Or if (at the suburban schools) someone in the pickup queue slid and caused a pile-up? Those are some of the other considerations a school district has got to take into account.

by Canaan on Jan 26, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

As a MCPS teacher I have a little in site into this area.

1. Montgomery County hates sending students home early. It is a very huge hassle to arrange buses to arrive to schools early. The decision has to be made by 10 am, buses have to quickly finish dropping off elementary school students and move to high schools etc.

2. High schools start at 7:25. Meaning that even a 2 hour delay is still 9:25. The reality of this is buses would begin picking up students before 8:30. If the roads are unclear at that time, or the it is still icy they close schools. Even if by noon everything has melted.

3. Today they could have easily done a 2 hour delay, but with the potential for snow to start in the afternoon (even though its 3 pm and it has not yet) it was just not worth it.

4. We have four days built in we can miss. In my 7 years in MCPS last year was the first time we ever went beyond 4 days, and last year was clearly abnormal.

by Matt R on Jan 26, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport


You also make a good point, what if teachers can not make it to school on time. This happens sometimes even after a huge thunderstorm because of down'd tree's etc. Those are very interesting days at school. I have had to cover two classes at once etc.

by Matt R on Jan 26, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

UMD closed early today and I'm sure we'll close tomorrow. We do have a lot of students who live on or near campus but many (myself included) also commute from all reaches of the metropolitan area. Some of these places get more snow than others, and some of them handle it better than others. But for the safety and convenience of all students they tend to err on the side of more closures.

Fine by me frankly. Schools and universities around here produce great students and the economy is one of the strongest in the nation. I don't think a few snow days at schools OR governments really affects us much in any negative fashion.

by Martin on Jan 26, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

How do we expect these kids to behave later on when they have a real job and it snows 2 or 3 inches??

Aren't we sort of seeing that now with the government closing early, employers having call-in policies to find out if there's a snow day, people showing up in whatever grubby garb they choose just because it's a snowy day, etc? I hardly ever remember the government so much as closing early when I was a kid (my father worked for the government downtown and rode Metrobus to Ballston, then the end of the Orange Line, and then the subway). I do remember them closing early on the day of the Air Florida crash. You might remember that a Metro train derailed at Federal Triangle at around the same time as the plane crash. The combination of those two things plus the early rush hour caused a nightmarish commute. But that day was the exception, not the rule. Last winter should also be considered exceptional. Nowadays people who grew up having snow days from school seem to think the same should apply in the real world.

I think the real shame in terms of local employers, and the government, is a reluctance to embrace telecommuting. There is really no reason why weather should shut down the government these days aside from bureaucratic refusal to allow people to work from home when conditions warrant. Of course there will always be situations where you cannot work from home, such as dealing with classified information (especially anything kept in a SCIF), but those exceptions shouldn't swallow the rule.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport

People who think the schools shouldn't close should try driving a school bus full of K-5 children on the hilly, windy one-and-a-half-lane roads in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve -- keeping in mind that it's often below freezing in the Agricultural Reserve when it's above freezing downcounty.

by Miriam on Jan 26, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

I recall some time ago when my snow-belt hometown was comparively braver with snow... it'd take at least 3 inches to manage a 1 hour delay; sometimes a touch of ice to pull off a 2 hour. Closures only happened once we hit the 6" mark or so. And that's in Pennsylvania; Buffalo would laugh at that.

Then there was a storm in 1999 or 2000 which only had perhaps 3-4 inches. For some reason, there seemed to be an extraordinary amount of school bus crashes that morning (no injuries) & I think some lawsuits thrown about (it's amusing to think that of people supporting adding millions to school budgets only to sue to get a large chunk of it) ... and the high school parking lot was blocked by a couple cars that decided to park across the sole access, causing much havoc during the regular-time dismissal that afternoon. From then on, school would get cancelled the previous night even if the forecast called for a possibility of flurries sometime the next day.

by Bossi on Jan 26, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

I grew up in a Pennsylvania suburb, but crucially, a suburb that was so small and dense that it didn't have to provide busing. We had a ton of 2-hour delays, but I don't think they ever cancelled unless there was either at least 8" of snow or a risk of electric or water outages. And that's how it should be around here.

I remember one day when the ground was clear in the morning, but the skies suddenly opened up at noon, and we got six inches in about an hour or two. As kids, obviously we petitioned our teachers to cancel class. But the fact was that it was, after all, the town's primary emergency shelter. During a snow storm, there was nowhere in town safer to be than inside our school. And, again, that's how it should be around here.

by tom veil on Jan 26, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

I grew up in Minneapolis, and attended school in the Minneapolis Public Schools. Throughout my entire time there, I can recall maybe 2 days off from school due to winter weather. One was during the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, and the other wasn't due to snow at all, but extreme cold (the high temp that day was something like -10 degrees, windchill was off-the-charts cold).

The school district took a lot of criticism for canceling on that cold day because they didn't make the call to cancel until early that morning. Since no one assumed classes might not happen, many kids went out to the bus stops or walked to school anyway, exposing them to the very cold the cancellation was supposed to avoid. That never happened again.

So yes, we're wimps. But it's not our fault - we aren't equipped to deal with that kind of weather, either physically or mentally. We don't have a snow and cold weather culture that prepares us to deal with those conditions on a regular basis.

Ironically, I'd note that during my time in the public schools in Minneapolis, I probably had more canceled school days due to summer weather than winter weather. One nasty spring thunderstorm took down hundreds of trees in the city and knocked out power to my school for several days. Another one triggered flash flooding that forced the building to be closed for a day or two for cleanup.

by Alex B. on Jan 26, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

@ah. Er, yeah. That's just fine to me.

by TimK on Jan 26, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

I believe one of the main considerations is the ability of buses to navigate the streets, many of which are side streets that don't get priority for plowing.

by Chris on Jan 26, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

All of them have to deal with children getting to and from school and that should be the deciding factor.

The schools buses will not be able to navigate along the streets in the counties

For DC remember last year when WMATA shutdown buses with no notice during the snow storm; imagine if they did that while school was in many students would be stranded. Most DC juniorhigh/middle/highschool students are dependent on taking WMATA's Metrobus and rail to school and if anything happens to metrobus or rail they are SOL

by kk on Jan 26, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

(I happily dragged a sled around the corner to pick up fresh groceries during the snowpocalypse of February 2010, while suburbanites survived on canned goods).

Those grocery stores, of course, used their greenhouses and dog sled teams to keep their shelves stocked.

by Kolohe on Jan 26, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

A few people on here noted that most of the school districts in the region are county-wide, and the areas within a county may have wildly different weather conditions. Growing up in Silver Spring, I knew that we would get school off even if the streets were clear because the roads were blocked in Poolesville or Damascus, which are thirty miles away. Even if it snowed, we could walk to school if absolutely necessary, but not everyone is able to do so.

D.C. is not only smaller, but is generally dense and walkable throughout meaning that travel and weather conditions are consistent everywhere. If we had smaller school districts - like in Pennsylvania, where they're at the township level - you'd probably see more schools open on snowy days wherever it was safe to do so. Of course, the reason why most D.C.-area school districts are so good is because the districts are huge and can spread the wealth. That's got to be worth a few snow days.

by dan reed! on Jan 26, 2011 5:37 pm • linkreport

Alex B's comment got me reminiscing...

I remember the ice storm of 1993 and the blizzard of 1996 quite fondly... the latter was more than an inch of solid ice; I just sat down on my street and slid down the hill on my butt; and had about a week off of school to do it.

1996 had snowdrifts as tall as our neighborhood's houses; we had 2 weeks off school to enjoy walking up onto each others' roofs and to build a rather complex neighborhood-wide network of walkable tunnels.

Good times... er, except that in 1996 we were subsequently in school until the last week of June :)

by Bossi on Jan 26, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

(I happily dragged a sled around the corner to pick up fresh groceries during the snowpocalypse of February 2010, while suburbanites survived on canned goods).

I call DC-smugness here. I live in the 'burbs and survived just fine. Don't even remember going an extra supermarket run. You know, food stays fresh for more than a day. I can turn your smugness around by pointing out that we at least had a good green free powerless work out, digging out our cars. You didn't. It's equally ridiculous, and really not helpful.

by Jasper on Jan 26, 2011 5:56 pm • linkreport

@ dan reed

There are significantly size portions of DC that are not walkable in terms of getting to and from school.

You can not exactly cross the Anacostia River (im not sure about this but I think Benning Road is the only street crossing the river that has sidewalks) or Rock Creek by foot at many locations.

With elementary schools you are right but when it comes to highschools you are not.

Dunbar-MM Washington(Closed)-Mckinley
Anacostia-Balou (about 2 miles apart and serve part of Ward 7 and all of 8)

are very close together while the following are not.

School Without Walls

The boundaries and locations of many DC high schools are asinine when you plot them on a map and see how certain areas of DC are served.

by kk on Jan 26, 2011 6:18 pm • linkreport

I grew-up in the Cleveland area and our district, despite having a hilly, semi-rural wealthy section was always among the last to close for snow. The test was weather school buses could run in that area of the district which was not unlike the less dense parts of Potomac, but with a few steep hills. Most of the district was on the same scale as pre-1970 MoCo. We could go several years without a snowday. Despite Cleveland's snowy image, there are years where it gets as little snow as DC--I know because I have family responsibilities there and stay in touch as well as visit during the winter. Putting a snowplow on a truck that does something else is not a big deal or a huge expense--that's how it works in most places. Salt spreaders can be used as add-ons and frankly salt is overused here. Some parts of the country use sand or cinders which tend to damage roads less. In my office, the people who make it in on inclement days are the people who don't own cars--one lives close and one doesn't (me). In my old office which was in a different part of Rockville, it was the people who came the furthest who showed-up. That's right, DCers and folks from Baltimore County got there, but not the ones who lived 10 minutes away. DCers are wimps. They also forget how to drive on cold wet surfaces.

Teleworking sounds great, but it requires a large investment in equipment (and maintenance of that equipment, often remotely) plus software to allow access to often secure servers, as well as phone access. People in "responsible" white collar positions are loathe to give up offices and do hoteling which is why I doubt you'll ever see much telecommuting in the private or public sector here. No one will recover the costs in rent. It also screws-up organizations--it's difficult to do team building and project coordination if people aren't physically available on a fairly regular basis. By the same token, it can breakdown on a day like this because people don't necessarily have what they need to work at home. It works fine for people who don't spend much time in an actual office and are relatively independent operators like realtors or sales reps, but it makes less sense for people in many kinds of skilled or managerial employment.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 7:15 pm • linkreport

One last thought----the public/private things is a typical libertarian piece of nonsense. Who are the people who get to work when it snows? Cops, fireman, nurses, etc. My experience in public and private health care and related fields was that people didn't wimp out. The police and firefighters might get lucky with overtime, but it's a crapshoot, because people do show-up and have sense of loyalty to their colleagues. There are many private sector jobs that aren't going to get done if the roads aren't plowed--most kinds of contractors, the usual run of sales reps, etc.

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 7:23 pm • linkreport

@ Rich -

You are very fortunate to have worked with healthcare employees who consistently show up to work in inclement weather.

I currently work for a (highly unionized) local health management organization and I can assure you that is not the case.

In my department there are three (out of five) coworkers who call in "sick" every time they see anything white outside their windows - including one who lives within walking distance - and our supervisor can't do anything about it due to union statutes.

It must be nice to work alongside people with integrity... Seeing as I work with spineless "snowmophobes", I wouldn't know anything about that.

by Josh C. on Jan 26, 2011 9:06 pm • linkreport

I just want to note there are two people named Rich posting in this thread. The one from Cleveland who posted at 7:15 and 7:23 is not the same one who made several posts earlier this afternoon (me).

by Rich on Jan 26, 2011 9:52 pm • linkreport

Yes, this area is totally wimpy about snow and has been in the 20 years that I've lived here. Just two weeks ago, schools in Montgomery and Prince George's Co. early dismissal at 11 a.m. - on a day when it was NOT snowing at the time AND it was not forecasted to begin until well AFTER school would have closed on a "normal" day (and the forecasts were correct). If my children were in a public school system, trust me, I would have been conducting some major plastic surgery to the decision makers. That was completely nonsensical.

As a native New Englander, I can tell you the problem here is how snow plowing is executed. In Connecticut where I grew up, each town had its own public works department and, in turn, plowed all of its own roads with the state handling the interstate highways and the state roads. As a result, we never were out of school on days with less than 6 inches of snow unless ice was the issue.

In addition, Washingtonians continue to speed, tailgate and demonstrate a general disdain for use of signals in snow (or any kind of inclement weather for that matter). The recklessness of the general driving populace here given the typically low amount of snow the region receives (compared to more Northern areas) is astonishing. I'd have to think that must enter into the thought process of whether to cancel school especially when I see school bus drivers exhibiting some of these poor inclement weather habits.

Finally, I work for a company that provides a vital service to the community and the retail-level employees show tremendous dedication to ensure that our stores are open in even the most challenging of weather conditions. Given the general wimpy nature of the wider Washington-area population, their efforts are even more noteworthy.

by Martin C. on Jan 26, 2011 9:56 pm • linkreport

wow what is up with this new chnacellor is one day off too much to ask? its antartica out there and we get a two hour delay??!?

by jaspertio on Jan 26, 2011 9:58 pm • linkreport

Bummer you had such a bad trip... I had the most courteous commute back from work today, albeit also my longest commute yet. During our 90 minutes on NY Ave, everybody signaled to change lanes; everyone let those folk in; not a single horn honk; everyone readily shuffled together to let fire engines / EMS pass through; and 5 of us even hopped out to catch a pickup that couldn't stop as it slid down approaching Florida Ave. Long trip, but a good one.

by Bossi on Jan 26, 2011 9:59 pm • linkreport

I have a number of things to add to this but mostly:

@Matt R:

I truly hope you're not in a teaching role in MCPS. As a teacher myself I'm appalled by your grammar and style. You need some writing training, regardless of the class(es) you teach. Let me get you started.

"In site" should be insight.

"This happens sometimes even after a huge thunderstorm because of down'd tree's etc." Would it take any extra time to put in an 'e' instead of an apostrophe? Clearly you have an obsession with apostrophes because then you use an unnecessary one when referring to trees. You mean 'trees' not 'tree's.' 'Tree's' is the possessive singular and is then followed by something that belongs to the tree, say roots or branches. 'Trees' is the plural for which you're looking.

Finally, let me apologize for using contractions in this writing. I'm using less than formal style because I consider one of my favorite blogs an in formal space.

Happy snow day folks!

by David on Jan 26, 2011 11:38 pm • linkreport

@ David
Really David you going to make a big deal over a blog post. I actualy hope your not he David at my school. Let's stick with the topic at hand, snow.

On that note 15 minutes after my post the sky opened up given how bad traffic was I am glad schools were off.
3 pm is when the elementary schools let out. Given how many of those students are picked up by their parents in cars it could have been bad.

Also we do get a lot of ice around here too. Snow is one thing but ice is another.

by Matt R on Jan 27, 2011 9:29 am • linkreport

I dont want my kids walking on icy or slick wet streets, no outdoor recess if below 45 degrees since I have to deal with their colds and flu, no school when snowing since you aint gonna pay any accident bills, and stop trying to put my kids out in the cold. Thank you

by Disconius on Jan 27, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

Great comments, everyone. The most useful point was the one about school meals. There are kids who rely on school being open to get nutritious, free meals.

I don't want to downplay the seriousness of power outages or impassable road conditions, but I still think we're way over on the wimpy side. If I could post images in comments I would juxtapose the Khumbu Icefall, the most challenging part of the Mount Everest ascent, with a slushy sidewalk and point out that traversing the latter is quite easy, even for little kids. All you need is boots and then you put one foot in front of the other.

@Disconius: I am pretty sure you can't catch cold from being cold. Also, you can avoid a child being cold by making sure they go to school wearing warm clothing.

Actually, the temperature during our snowfalls has been a lot *higher* than normal, around 34-36 degrees, which is why it's slushy. Enjoy the gratuitous day off, everyone!

by Steven Glazerman on Jan 27, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

Thank you, David, for being the grammar snob about whom my mother warned. Just an FYI - informal is one word, not two. No need to correct my grammar; I don't mind using contractions or not following proper writing guidelines unless I am getting paid to do so.

And, thank you, nwdcguy, for reminding us that there is nothing more important in life than work, work, work, and more work.

by Bob Cratchit on Jan 27, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

I grew up in Michigan and Minnesota, and I think I have the authority to state that DC is not at all wimpy. It seems to me that DC often gets ice b/c the temps are around 32 when storms hit. Back in the great north, when we got ice storms, school shut down. You'd get these kinds of power outages, impassable roads, and treacherous conditions for pedestrians. My 5th grade teacher died after hitting her head on highway while crossing the street and then got run over. Ice is treacherous. My kids babysitter broker her tailbone last week on the sidewalk, and this city is full of douchebag progressives in group houses who can't be bothered to clear their sidewalks (in case you want to demonize someone).

We had school on snowy days, but then again, the roads were flat and straight, and still I remember getting stuck in snow drifts.

I think you need to ask why it's so important to live in a "macho" city. You want to be tough, do it to yourself and on your own time, and don't put use kids as a pawn to some larger argument: Remember last year when Michelle Rhee tried to open the schools during the Superbowl just so she could show what big balls she had? Then, the parents got pissed, and DCPS and Fenty couldn't get the streets and sidewalks cleared for a full week!

by mtp on Jan 27, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

@mtp I don't think it's about machismo. It's about learning time (for kids) and productivity (for adults). Yes, we have to take safety seriously, but it's in the kids' interest to not lose valuable learning time sitting at home watching cartoons because of some slush.

by Steven Glazerman on Jan 27, 2011 5:59 pm • linkreport

Oh, please! Who cares if the kids miss a day or a few days of school, and make it up later? In Fairfax, school officials are screwed one way or another - and they are right to be careful. I am sick of the wimp argument - who among you supports having the same number of snowplows, etc. that Buffalo, or northern Michigan has? Blah, blah, blah...

by ryneduren on Jan 27, 2011 10:21 pm • linkreport

The problem in the DC area is the lack of plows and the transient nature of the population.

I was "stuck" at my parents house in northern NJ for the Christmas storm. They got about 27 inches where they lived. Within 2 hours of the snow starting, there were plows on their isolated side street and they came by every few hours all night. By morning, their street was bare pavement.

They put plows on garbage trucks, they put trucks on municipal pickup trucks, they have dedicated plow/spreader trucks, and I've even seen plows on school buses.

Now, you cannot really blame the DC area for this problem because it simply costs too much to pay for that kind of plowing. They also don't have things like garbage trucks as they are all private. As a side note, my office parking lot and internal office complex roads where clean to the pavement, but the roads leading to the office where plowed. The point being it can be done if somebody pays for it.

The second major problem is that the DC area has a large transient population where half the people know how to drive in snow and the other half doesn't. I love to mock SUV drivers who think that they can still do 40-50 mph in the snow. Sure, your heavy 4 wheel drive car can still move that fast in snowy conditions, but you still cannot stop nor turn.

One of my neighbors in VA decided he wanted to go out in my neighborhood with 6 inches of unplowed snow. He then got stuck and decided the best way to get out was to just slam the gas and keep spinning his wheels until he moved. Well, he dug himself into a nice big hole. A few people came over, shoveled him out, rocked the car in and out, got him free. He then got in the car again, slammed the gas, made it about 10 feet and dug himself another hole.

by Ryan on Jan 28, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport


Yep. People don't know how to drive in snow here.

They don't realize the necessities of momentum - adjusting your speed before you start downhill, preserving your speed so that you can make it up a hill. They don't get the turning aspects, either - it's an imprecise thing. Driving a car in the snow is more like driving a boat than a car on dry pavement. You can't stop immediately, you can't decelerate quickly, turning requires some forethought.

Snow cities also mean that drivers have snow-ready cars. Rear wheel drive is rare. People often have better tires. More cars have traction control. Those that have 4WD know how to actually use it (hint - it doesn't change the laws of physics).

Discretion is perhaps the biggest difference. Snow drivers will specifically avoid routes they know to be hilly or otherwise troublesome. If you have a car with low ground clearance, you don't bother driving it - period. Same with rear wheel drive. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Finally, some of this week's mayhem was just due to bad driving all around. Blocking the box won't help anyone.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

A native of DC, I grew up having people from areas like Wisconsin telling me I lived in an area that was wimpy to weather, and often visiting WI, I agreed. Currently, I consider DC much less of a wimp after moving to Los Angeles. This city freaks out as it the sky was falling the moment rain begins to fall. When you live here long enough to see mud slides and understand the streets where not built with proper drainage, this is somewhat understandable, but still very sad. DC may be weaker than Northern States, but they are still stronger than Southern California when it comes to weather. What you see happening during ice and snow happens with the smallest amounts of drizzle here. DC is not the worst.

by Lydia Z. on Jan 30, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

@ by Matt R on Jan 26, 2011 3:17 pm
You sure you've been @ MCPS for 7yrs?
In 2003 we had President's Day Snowstorm that closed all school in DC metro area( & bmore metro too!) for the whole week. I remember it was so bad bc there no electricity either. We had to go and get dry ice!

Last year definitely was out of the ordinary not just because of snow, but bc it was 2 snowstorms back to back in February!

Plus dont forget the Dec storm! We also had signifigant snow is January.

18-19 Dec 9: 16.4 inches closed school for the 3days it was open
29-30Jan: 6in of snow
2Feb10: 4in snow, closed MCPS the next day Wed 3 Feb
BIG ONE 5-6Feb: Blizzard started @ 10a. MCPS closed early
The whole 2nd week of February MCPS was closed.

209/10 winter was definitely for the ecordbooks!

by lilkunta on Feb 23, 2011 7:06 am • linkreport

Buffalo transplant here. It never ceases to amaze me how little it takes to shut everything down here. A foot of snow wouldn't shut schools down up there. But this is the lawyer capital of the world, for sure. Everyone is so afraid of litigation they don't dare hold classes, lest a bus gets into a fender bender or someone slips on their way to school and sues the district for having school in the first place.

by Holly on Jan 11, 2015 11:00 pm • linkreport

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