School-closing debate season begins

Without peeking today, I’m guessing some news organization in Minnesota is preparing the “why didn’t _________ call off school today?” story, adding more pressure to weary school administrators to give in to the hype of TV weather. Having spent several days in “are you going to call off school?” hysteria, we are fully prepared to shift to “Why did/didn’t you call off school?” mode. It’s what we do. And, online traffic statistics suggest, you love it. You eat up stories about the weather no matter how much you say you don’t.

From evidence gathered via the BlogDog’s customary morning walk, I have learned that it’s cold. Ridiculously cold. The kind of cold in which bare skin freezes in nanoseconds, according to the meteorologists. And it’s a darn good thing I listened, too, because otherwise I’d probably have been out walking naked.

We can argue all day about the value of the wind chill number until we’re blue in the exposed skin, but there’s no doubting this advisory number now dictates how we live our lives. It’s instant drama in an industry that requires drama.

It’s -7 at 6:30 with an 8 mph wind. That’s about a -22 wind chill, which, for the record, stinks. No argument there. Does it feel twice as warm as the depth of last year’s polar vortex to you? If not, there’s the value of the wind chill number. Because it is. Twice as warm.

Wind chill is a helpful thing to know and some valuable data to remind you to dress warm (oh, that’s another thing: Honk, if someone in the media has told you to bundle up as if you couldn’t have figured that out on your own). But it shouldn’t be our master.


One TV meteorologist intoned a bit ago that the -29 “feels like” temperature reading displayed on the screen had already dropped to -33. But you probably felt that.

In the Star Tribune today, a young letter-writer gave Minneapolis the “what for” for not cancelling school yesterday.

When I read Monday morning that just 10 minutes of waiting in a windchill of minus 30 degrees can cause frostbite on exposed skin, and that MPS has stated that only a minus-35-degree windchill will warrant school closings, which was the case today, I worried not only for my nose, but also for my sister’s nose and for the other 35,354 noses in the school system.

Perhaps it would be prudent of MPS to consider a more reasonable cancellation policy, and to base school closings on student safety. Luckily, my bus arrived at my stop early on Monday, and I still have my nose to show for it!

It’s hard to imagine any school superintendent being able to withstand the weather panic in order to satiate the news media, but a few did, and we presume they did so knowing that (a) some kids don’t have warm clothes (b) the wait at the bus stop could kill them and (c) they weren’t going to master avoiding split infinitives today anyway.

Which is why Saint Paul’s decision to keep the schools open today made perfect sense. It also said if you didn’t want to try to make it to school, no problem. You can get your assignments from a classmate and still not fall behind. For those kids who could make it, many get the only hot meal of their day, and 7 hours of warmth.

“I want to offer SPPS families the opportunity to do what they know is best for their own children,” St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva said in a statement. “For some of our families, school is the safest place for their students during this cold weather.”

Even that flexibility wasn’t good enough for many people debating the decision on the district’s Facebook page this morning.


Look, it’s OK if we’re not as tough as Minnesotans of years past; they had to do without wiFi, so we’re even. We shouldn’t do stupid things to prove how tough we are.

But it’s going to be a long winter and while the news is slow and we need something to gin up interest, a little less weather hysteria and panic would be a breath of fresh air.

Everybody take a deep breath. And, for goodness sake, bundle up.

(Note: Now through Jan. 31, California Closets is collecting coats. Drop an item off at one of their 13 Twin Cities locations. Additionally, Ideal Credit Union generously accepts coat donations all year long for The Salvation Army. Find a location.)

Update 11:07 a.m.Project Reach is asking for 500 winter coats.