Meteorologists get forecast right; get blamed for St. Paul school bus snafu

The St. Paul Public Schools threw meteorologists under the bus last evening after it was criticized for not closing schools yesterday, leading some children to still being on stuck buses in the evening darkness.

Some kids were still on buses as of 11 p.m., KSTP reported.

The school system’s apology blamed the weather forecast.

The decision to keep the District open today (Jan. 22) was based on the forecast and what we believed was the best course of action for our students.

Had we known that the City of Saint Paul was going to get up to 8 inches of snow between 2 and 6 p.m., SPPS may have taken a different course of action.

It’s classic non-apology apology.

The meteorologists got their forecast right.

Here’s the National Weather Service forecast map (every meteorologist works off the National Weather Service), which was published on Monday morning at 4:15. It called for the up to 8 inches of snow the school system said it didn’t know the city would get. And it made clear that 10-14 inches of snow was possible in the metro.

Even on Sunday night, it was clear that the region was going to see its heaviest snow in years, and that it would be heaviest during school hours.

On the school district’s Facebook page, parent Leah Olssen, whose children arrived home four hours late, wasn’t buying the apology.

“Had we known…” Are you even serious? Every forecast in the region was clear. The stress and strain you put on families and the children you put in danger when you put them on the roads tonight was absolutely unacceptable. Take responsibility. This was nothing short of very poor planning. Not only did you have a pretty clear radar as early as yesterday, you had enough snow by noon to know what the afternoon would look like. Had you known…please.

On the other hand, the teachers, aides, students, and parents went above and beyond as usual.

Indeed, lost in the recriminations are the selfless teachers and bus drivers who stayed with the children and kept them safe until help could arrive. By mid-evening, St. Paul police stepped in to shuttle about 30 students home when it was clear no other help would arrive.

The teaching staff has more than earned today’s snow day.

So have the meteorologists who aren’t taking one.

  • dschille

    A friend of mine used the GPS on his kids phone to find their bus and went to get them at 6:30 p.m. That is bananas.

    • John Maddening

      Yeah, but that’s also pretty cool that such a thing is possible.

  • BReynolds33

    A school district? Take responsibility? That’s a good one. These people are masters of the art of self delusion and buck passing. Nothing is ever their fault. Between policies (they passed) and a rampant inability for most people to discern between criticizing the district and criticizing teachers, they have 1000 places they can hide and point fingers.

  • AL287

    Yes. By all means let’s shoot the messenger.

    The possibility for more than six inches of snow was on the table throughout the weekend. The NWS forecast page had a disclaimer across the top of it due to the government shutdown that some services were unavailable but that the radar and forecasts that affect life and limb would remain available.

    When was the last time St. Paul District administrators were ordered to keep working without pay?

    Anyone with half a brain could see the snow approaching from the south on the radar and the intensity of it. It was falling at a rate of 1-2 inches an hour with a stiff northeast wind gusting to 25 mph.

    There have been how many snow days this year in the metro? Zero.

    Schools in the Twin Cities and the Metro should have shut down at noon. If they had, the kids would have gotten home in time for dinner.

    Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

  • theoacme

    Apparently, we now know who Sean Spicer’s current employer is…

    …or was that Comical Ali that SPPS hired?

    • thx1183

      David Kay

  • Gary F

    Once again, it’s one of those “I’d like to be a fly on the wall in that office” when this was decided.

    • What is it about “we screwed up and we’re sorry and we’ll try to be better” that so scares people? When has that NOT worked when delivered in a timely fashion? Are there any PR experts out there who can explain this?

      • Mike Worcester

        The cynical side in me says it’s all about obfuscating just enough to shield themselves from any sort of negligence claims in case their decisions lead to injuries — which was definitely a possibility considering the travel conditions yesterday. They can say “hey, we did our best with the information we had in hand”, when in actuality they did the exact opposite.

        • This^^.

          So much this^^

        • Rob

          Hence my comment about negligence lawsuits.

        • jeb_r

          This honestly seems more likely. Was there a bit more snow than what (at least I recall) the official forecast saying was the median possibility? Sure, but the meteorologists were also clear that the edge could shift slightly, and a small shift would mean a major difference in snowfall. It seems as though SPPS wasn’t prepared for handling that possibility. Easier to blame the meteorologists and have plausible deniability than to admit that administration wasn’t prepared for the snowstorm and what it could bring.

          It seems as though MPS handled it okay, or at least didn’t botch it as badly as SPPS. Sounds like maybe SPPS could talk with MPS and see what they did that worked and take those lessons back to SPPS.

      • killershrew

        YES. Yes, yes, yes. I wish more people understood this. I see so much finger pointing in MN and it is so disheartening. You can do better, Minnesota. There is a lot of power in being humble and taking responsibility for mistakes. Blaming only exacerbates the problem.

        Also, to your question about PR – I’ve done communications work. To see the district issue such a statement indicates that they don’t have a good PR person working for them.

        • Andrea

          Excellent point. The best defense is no defense. Rather, a heartfelt apology.

      • WhalePrintPants

        Bob, I used to work in weather communications, and I can explain what happened here because I’ve seen it many, many times. There’s a myth that’s burned into the public psyche that “weather forecasts are always wrong.” Which is complete idiotic nonsense, as this storm showed, the forecast was pretty good. Are there times when a forecast is wrong? Sure, but the majority of the time, they’re not.

        The reasons for this belief range from people not understanding a forecast, to the odd phenomena of people thinking there’s a forecast that doesn’t exist (a confounding yet fascinating thing), to media miscommunicating a forecast to just a tendency to remember the forecast busts and not the good calls (meteorologists are like offensive linemen, you never pay attention to them when they’re doing their job correctly).

        What does this have to do with the message sent by the school district? Simple. They have a ready scapegoat in meteorologists, because of that idea that so many assume they blew the forecast, even when they didn’t. Politicians are notorious for it. Examples include Hurricane Harvey, when politicians claimed they never knew it would be that bad when forecasts were telling them that…here in PA there were hundreds stranded during the blizzard in 2016 on the PA Turnpike, and officials claimed forecasters told them it wouldn’t be that bad…in 2002 a severe thunderstorm killed one person and injured scores more at a Pittsburgh area amusement park, and a local politician claimed there was no warning when a warning was issued 24 minutes prior to it hitting.

        They do this because they figure people will buy it based on the myth. There’s evidence in this article’s comments of that. Is it a weasel move? Absolutely. But sometimes, it works.

        • lusophone

          Agreed. There are so many days of uneventful weather that is correctly forecast that we just don’t tally in our minds as a win for the weather guy. We only pay attention to the storms, which don’t happen all that often. And even so, they get a lot of those right too. I think a lot of people don’t understand probability either.

  • I was surprised SPPS didn’t cancel yesterday. By now everyone should know that our maxxed out transportation infrastructure isn’t going to work when there is a major storm, and this one was well forecast days out. At the very least they should have cancelled afternoon classes and began bussing before noon. And now the SPPS owe both the NWS and the parents, students, their own staff, and drivers another apology. A real one this time.

    • theoacme

      A live performance by SPPS admins of the “Very Very Sorry Song” on “Morning Edition”, nothing else will do…

      …and SPPS Admins, you’re still losing at Calvinball to the Updraft, Q to nothing…

    • John

      While they should have cancelled, and they should have figured out how to close at noon, I believe it is extremely difficult to shift the bus schedules around (vs. cancelling).

      I don’t know how it works in bigger areas, but in the rural part of the state where I grew up, most of the bus drivers got up early, drove the bus to school, then went to a part time day job, and then back to drive the bus at the end of the school day.

      It’s nearly impossible for those areas to close school early, because they can’t get enough bus drivers back to get everyone home.

      It may be different here, where there is likely enough bus demand to keep everyone driving full time (of course, then whatever they would normally be driving in the early afternoon has to be shifted as well . . so different logistical issues).

      • Yes, cancelling classes completely is the obvious first choice.

  • Minneapolis also had classes yesterday, but they didn’t have kids stuck on buses all night. What was really the problem for SPPS?

    • johnepeacock

      St Paul has hills.

      • Minneapolis has hills also. I live on one of them.

        • johnepeacock

          Sorry, I was a little too snarky. I meant mostly that the whole downtown sits at the bottom of a bunch of hills and a lot of inner-city traffic passes through that. Summit, Kellogg, West St Paul, all are built on hills. The main Minneapolis arteries aren’t. Hennepin, Lyndale, Broadway, Washington, Lake are all flat.

          • Nah, we got the snark.

            And you are 100% correct.

            With that said, SPPS really screwed the pooch on this one.

          • That’s a fair point. Though it would seem SPPS should take that into greater consideration when deciding whether to call a snow day.

        • Renae

          I’m in Mpls too. I saw a bus go by that was about an hour late; I wonder if Mpls may have better “snow detour” routes. Part of our robocall last night said Snow Detour routes were in effect. My road was completely unpassable and the buses used a plowed street nearby. Kids had to walk an extra block, but at least they could get home.

    • gold

      The SPPS problem is we have many magnet schools. That means kids from all over the city can go to a school on the opposite end of town. On a good day, the bus routes can take at least 45 minutes to complete. Yesterday? That’s why.

      • Minneapolis also has magnet schools. The elementary school two blocks from my house is a science and math magnet. But again, this would seem to be yet another consideration that should have tipped the scale towards calling the snow day.

  • Rob

    I smell negligence lawsuits.

  • Mike Worcester

    I hope every single bus driver gets a bonus for fulfilling their duties amidst that mess (I wanted to use a stronger term but hey, this is a family page, right?). Perhaps as punishment for the administrators in their ineptitude, they should be made to chaperone each and every bus route for a week to make amends.

    And as for those in admin who felt it was right to blame the NWS, there are plenty of other school districts who figured it out.

    • John O.

      When districts 196 (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan) and 194 (Lakeville) cancel classes and activities the night before, you *know* a big one is coming.

      • Mike Worcester

        You know it. Anoka-Hennepin is another one that us country folk use as a marker for whether or not it was “really bad”.

    • wonderpigeon

      I’ve actually seen discussions on Facebook indicating that the hourly staff who stayed on stuck buses with students (I assume this would include drivers and possible aides of some sort?) have been told by the district that they’re only getting two hours extra pay. No idea if this is true or not, but if it is, that’s outrageous.

      • Kassie

        I’m sure that would be illegal. If they are paid hourly, they get paid for hours worked.

  • Ben Chorn

    Those must have been some hungry kids.

    • Renae

      Hungry? What about toileting? My kid was stuck on a bus for 4 hours once; he and all the other kindergartners on it tore off it to find restrooms.

      • Andrea

        What about the kids with diabetes, asthma, seizure disorders – the extra risk they were at for not having eaten since their lunch period (which is a rushed, abbreviated affair as it is) and who may have missed important medications? What if a bus had broken down – what about the children from poor families who often do not have adequate outer winter clothing? What about the parents who had evening and night shift jobs to (try to) go to and were left waiting for their children? The district’s lack of integrity – trying to shift responsibility rather than apologize for its mistake, a mistake that put students at risk and parents anxious and scrambling – will only hurt the public’s trust. The St. Paul Public School School District’s emergency plan system did not work in this snow emergency. Students and families were put at risk. What would happen if the emergency were a couple of notches more severe?

  • Angry Jonny

    Every school administrator and school board member should be required to either A)get their substitute teacher’s license, or B) get a Class B with a school bus endorsement.

    • I always thought that when I retired, I’d get a part-time gig driving a school bus . Last night convinced me not to.

      • John

        last night was the main argument that I’ve seen in favor of doing it.

      • Mike Worcester

        Depending on the company/district you’d work for, you can always just do events and extra-curricular activities rather than daily routes. Though that would not stop you from having to face down Ma Nature at times.

      • Angry Jonny

        I have always thought the same thing. Don’t let one lousy night kill your dreams, Bob.

        • Well, I’ve still got “be an usher at Target Field” and “Work at a Frattalone’s” on the list.

          • My brother is thinking of the “Usher at the X” or working as a baggage handler at MSP when he retires from ATC…

          • EarthToBobby

            Now you can add topless house cleaner.

          • Tck

            Just out of curiosity, how did “Work at a Frattalone’s” make it on your list? I’m assuming you mean the hardware stores.

          • I love hardware stores. Got any “pull” there? :*)

      • One of my long time friends drives a school bus.

        After hearing some of his stories I don’t recommend anyone doing that thankless job.

      • Jim in RF

        I know some people in western WI who just love it.

      • AL287

        If you ever decide to drive a school bus, which as a substitute teacher I strongly advise you not to, drive the elementary bus route that has only elementary students (or mostly elementary students).

        By the time kids enter middle school they have lost all fear of authority, especially administrators who cave at the slightest pressure from parents.

        They also become quite skilled at gaming the “system”.

  • johnepeacock

    The main reason why SPPS and MPS are hesitant to call a snow day is the amount of families who are hourly employees who cannot take work off to be home with their children early or on a snow day. Suburban schools assume most parents have salaried employment and can just work from home or something, but if you don’t show up for a shift at Burger King, you may not have a job after that.

    That said, they really botched this one, big time.

    • jon

      All the more reason for them to call it early when the forecast on sunday says it’s going to be bad… give the families time to make some arrangements if/when possible…

  • Cat

    How old were the kids that were still on buses at 11 pm? It’s unclear to me whether little ones fared better or the same as older kids in getting home. Lots of other questions about this, but I’m sure in the future the school will err on the side of early dismissal, with care provided at the school for kids who can’t go home because a parent can’t leave work.

    • Kat S.

      Mostly elementary and some middle school, if I’m remembering my school start and end times correctly. The schools with 3 pm end times took so long getting kids home that the drivers couldn’t even get to the schools with 4pm end times until 7 or 8 in some cases. Most of the high schools have early starts currently.

  • JMR

    I was going stir-crazy in my car, so I can only imagine how the kiddos were feeling stuck on buses/at school. Shout out to the people on the ground who tried to make a sticky situation a little bit better. Good on them for cancelling today.

    I will say, I was very impressed with how helpful people were being with cars who were getting stuck. When I was in the home stretch, there was a group of 4 people helping people who were getting stuck on the hill on Maryland and cheering on those who made it up without help.

    • I have REALLY missed having major snowstorms. They’re a free reminder of good we can be to each other.

      • Agreed.

        I (and quite a few others) helped push at least 6 cars up a hill and out of the way trying to exit the little one way street at my office park last night (OPUS), then proceeded to direct traffic for a spell to alleviate the congestion.

        Sure we were frustrated that it was taking 90 minutes to get out (usually a 5 minute drive), but people just dealt with it and helped others…

      • Rob

        It was actually fun to give my snowblower some exercise; took care of several neighbors’ driveways and sidewalks

        • jon

          To paraphrase Uncle Ben…
          “With great blower comes great responsibility.”

          If you’ve got a two stage blower at least clear out the plow wash for your neighbors who don’t have one.

          • Rob

            I did just that, thanks. We live on a curve on a snow emergency route, so the plow poop is even more of a problem for my neighbors and I.

          • jon

            I’ll probably do the same as soon as the plows bother going down our street… We usually have 4 plows go by before 5:30am…
            Today I saw 1 by that time, they didn’t clear the shoulders like the normally do, just the main lanes… so the wake wasn’t that significant (yet)… (maybe with the schools canceled they aren’t giving priority to my street with the school on it?)

            Still cleared what I could to as far away from the street as I could manage… hopefully it means less to clear when the plows do go through.. .

          • John

            I have a 13 year old. I made him do the neighbor’s driveway before they even came out (they also have a two stage blower).

            What’s the fun in having a teenager if you can’t make them work?

          • That guy was probably excited at the prospect of being able to use the snowthrower.

          • John

            more than a little bit.

            He’s also pretty excited about the few bucks I throw his way for helping with this. It’s tough to earn money as a seventh grader.

          • lusophone

            I was debating with myself whether or not to shovel my sidewalk, knowing my neighbor has a snowblower and how much he loves to use it. My kids and I ended up shoveling our section of the sidewalk. They need their exercise.

          • jon

            I don’t know …. if you’ve got a 13 year old then I think you give them a shovel and have them clear the fire hydrants in the neighborhood while you clear your driveway with the snow blower….. but that’s just based on my experience from when I was 13….

        • Mine has clogged up jet valves via the carburetor. It nursed it through its chores, but I’m not going to be able to work on it until it warms up.

          • Rob

            When you get your job at Frattalone’s, you’ll probably get the parts at cost. ; )

      • thx1183

        I helped push one car, but only because it was blocking the end of the alley I was trying to drive into. Enlightened self interest I guess.

    • Jay T. Berken

      It did give me some faith in humanity seeing random people up and helping other random people through my two hour commute last night.

  • I think the bigger picture here is that it’s a perfect time for this song (and yes, i know it’s a Trip Shakespeare song):

  • lusophone

    I know that buses have been an issue for Minneapolis Public Schools and I assume St. Paul for some time now. It has been hard for MPS to schedule and find drivers for after school activities. I wonder if this was part of the problem last night. If you’re already low on drivers and a storm hits, it just exacerbates the problem.

    Also I’m sure they need a certain amount of lead time to notify their drivers to report in early if they are going to close the schools down early. Gotta believe that many drivers have other jobs during the middle of the day and aren’t necessarily available to show up on a moment’s notice.

  • Jason R

    Is this an opinion piece? Anyone who actually watched the hourly NWS forecast knows that the heaviest snow bands moved north mid-morning Monday. Did you bother to contact a meteorologist or did you just make assumptions based on a map?

    • What on earth are you talking about?

      Tell you what. Why don’t you take a few minutes to browse the blog from the MPR meteorologists and go back through the weekend and then see if the “we didn’t know we’d get 8 inches of snow” still works for you. We’ll wait here.

      • Jason R

        Science. But you could contact Paul Huttner after all.

        • Seriously. You’re not making any sense at all.

        • jon

          Paul Huttner posts on a weather blog.

          On friday he shared the NWS warning:
          “A strong storm system will bring an area of moderate to heavy snow across a portion of southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin Sunday night, spreading east through Monday. Snowfall totals of 6 to 10 inches are possible by the time the storm exits the region Monday evening. At this point, the heaviest snow will fall south of a line from Redwood Falls through the Twin Cities toward St Croix Falls and Rice Lake. Other areas that may see heavy snow include Fairmont, Mankato, River Falls and Eau Claire.”

          On saturday:
          “A strong storm system will bring an area of moderate to heavy
          snow across a portion of southern through east central Minnesota into western Wisconsin Sunday night, spreading east through Monday. Snowfall totals of 6 to 10 inches are possible by the time the storm exits the region Monday evening. At this point, the heaviest snow will fall south of a line from Redwood Falls through the Twin Cities toward St Croix Falls and Rice Lake. Other areas that may see heavy snow include Fairmont, Mankato, River Falls and Eau Claire.”

          On sunday he did the same:
          “A strong storm system will bring an area of heavy snow across south central and east central Minnesota into western Wisconsin by early Monday morning. Snowfall totals of 8 to 15 inches are likely by Monday evening. At this point, the heaviest snow will fall across the warning area. There may only be light snow accumulations northwest of that line, therefore any slight shift in track could result in large snowfall forecast changes.”

          Monday morning:
          “A strong storm system will bring an area of heavy snow across south central and east central Minnesota into western Wisconsin by early Monday morning. Snowfall totals of 8 to 14 inches are likely by Monday evening in the warning area. Strong winds with gusts up to 40 MPH during the heavy snow period will lead to blizzard conditions in a portion of south central MN. Farther east, winds will be in the 20 to 30 MPH range and cause blowing and drifting snow.”

          Heck last tuesday Paul Huttner put in the blog that the european model suggested .8 inches of liquid accumulation… that was LAST TUESDAY… and a 1:10 liquid precipitation to snow accumulation is fairly standard for forecasting… So 8 inches… last week… we had a forecast a week ago!

          So none of this strikes you as an indication of a potential for 8 inches of snow?

          This history is all there:

  • Kevin

    The communication issues don’t stop there.

    SPPS has an app that is supposed to say how late a particular bus is running. Last night my son’s bus was at least 2 hours late (finally another parent brought him home). The app said the bus was on time. If I had known how late it was I would have picked him up.

    Also, there is a phone number to call about buses. SPPS even tweeted it yesterday afternoon. The problem is they were so overwhelmed that no one answered the phone. Even the school where my son was stuck couldn’t get through to find out where the bus was.

  • Helm Matthews

    Actually, most morning meteorologists were saying that the storm was tracking south and that the northern metro should only get a few inches. Even your map suggests that southern metro wasn’t going to get a foot a snow.

    • The claim was “we didn’t know we’d get 8 inches of snow.” The map clearly shows that although the heaviest snow would be to the south, 6-8″ was possible in the city AND it was made clear through the weekend that the cities were on the edge and things could go either way. This isn’t an opinion. These are facts. So, what exactly is your point?

      If you’ve got evidence to the contrary, by all means, provide a link so we can see it.

      • Jason R

        Seems like you have skin in the game with this attitude to your readers.

        • I don’t . I have an inversion to people trying to change facts and mislead readers. All the information that you think would be disproved by talking to MPR meteorologists CAME from MPR meteorologists.

          So maybe don’t troll so hard, eh? And if you’re going to spend any time here at all — and maybe this is your first time here — it’s best to bring facts and citations with you because the people here are really smart and informed (as you’ve seen by their refuting of your “information”) and they’ll eat you alive if you just try to “Strib comment” your way through.

          • John

            aversion vs inversion?

          • Postal Customer

            “they’ll eat you alive if you just try to “Strib comment” your way through”


      • Postal Customer

        Indeed. I was looking at NWS’s probability forecasts Sunday evening. The predicted amount for Saint Paul was 7-8 inches.

      • theoacme

        Inner ring northwest suburb, commutes to and from down by the ZygiDome, I was praying that the dry line was more south than the map showed…

        …it wasn’t, in fact, with all the impressive drifting (I snow shovel at my apartment complex by hand), I got a high quality workout…

        …was the forecast wrong? I read caveats and fine print at work, and all the Updraft folks magnify the fine print of Euro/NOAA weather models, and they were clear, the forecast said that the northern accumulation zone edges could shift, but the accumulation was as advertised…

        …my back, however, wishes I had been right about the dry line…

        …and I could use a pretty cleaner to clean my house, wearing a shift…

    • jon

      //Had we known that the City of Saint Paul was going to get up to 8 inches of snow …

      Meanwhile in the NWS severe weather warning issued sunday afternoon (3:20pm):

      “Heavy snow will develop Monday morning across south central and
      east central Minnesota into western Wisconsin. Snowfall totals of
      8 to 14 inches are likely by Monday evening in the warning area,
      with amounts rapidly tapering off near the western edge. Strong
      winds with gusts up to 40 MPH during the heavy snow will lead to
      blizzard conditions in a portion of south central MN. Farther
      east, winds will be in the 20 to 30 MPH range and cause patchy
      blowing and drifting snow.”

      That remained in effect through most of monday, including for the twin cities…

  • Brian Simon

    Minneapolis didn’t close schools early… what happened in St Paul to cause such delays?

    Anecdotally, there were delays here, but I haven’t heard of anything like 10 or 11 pm. My daughter’s bus was an hour late, mostly due to the bus picking up late at school. My neighbor said their daughter’s bus was stuck for an hour and a half. Tough on the kids, but not 10pm either…

    • E Ric

      Minneapolis is not a great example either. A least one school had kids there until 7:15 PM last night, along with multiple other delays from what I heard from a relative.

  • carla barnhill

    The district is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It is tremendously disruptive to cancel school in a district with nearly 40,000 students. If they had cancelled and we’d gotten only the predicted five or six inches of snow? Oh, how the complaints would have rolled in! Most parents can’t just stay home from work or afford to make other arrangements at the last minute. Knowing how disruptive it is, the district has to be dead certain they are making the right call, and on Sunday night, the forecast was still showing the Twin Cities on the edge between 2 inches and 8 inches. As for early dismissal, it doesn’t work in a district as large as St. Paul or Minneapolis. Buses can’t just be called in at noon to get kids home. Drivers have other jobs, and there isn’t a one-to-one bus to school ratio–they run on staggered schedules, just like the schools, so one bus might serve four different schools around the city. And how do you make sure parents are home for those elementary kids? You can’t just send first graders home in the middle of the day and expect an adult to be waiting for them. Many elementary kids stay for after school programs and don’t have an assigned after school bus at all. How do you propose they get home? All this to say, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback what is actually an incredibly complex decision with a huge ripple affect across the city. The teachers, staff, and bus drivers who kept kids safe yesterday deserve all the praise we can give them, but the district isn’t the fall guy here. Minnesota’s crazy weather is.

    • The district isn’t the fall guy because it snowed. They’re the fall guy because they claimed they were misled and their explanation insults the intelligence of city residents who know what the forecast said and when it said it.

      • carla barnhill

        So maybe they should have said, “Considering that the last two big snow storms that were predicted to hit the Twin Cities didn’t actually hit the Twin Cities (see Dec. 18, 2017, late Feb. 2017), we had to weigh the very real possibility that this storm was also going to track south.” Meteorologists tell us all the time that theirs is an inexact science and that models are constantly changing. The radar yesterday morning showed the whole system well south of the Twin Cities. In the middle of the day yesterday, Updraft said this “A coating to 2″ will be common in the far northwest Twin Cities. More than a foot will fall in the southeast metro. Snowfall totals between 5 and 10 inches will be common in the downtowns and central part of the Twin Cities.” If SPPS had cancelled and we got five inches, they would have been taken to task for panicking.

        • Maybe they just should have said. “We’re sorry; we’ll do better next time” and be an educational example of young people on accepting responsibility for mistakes.

          • carla barnhill

            Sorry for what? What did they do wrong? Not trust a shifting forecast? Make a call to have school? Their decision is only a mistake in hindsight. You said yourself, “6-8″ was possible in the city AND it was made clear through the weekend that the cities were on the edge and things could go either way.”

          • jon

            You don’t have to be wrong to apologize.

            You can make all the best decisions with the information available (and I’m not going to argue that the schools did that) and still be sorry for the outcome.

            You can be sorry that some one had a bad day, even though you weren’t a part of their day at all.

            I can deeply regret that you can’t understand sympathy and empathy as emotions with out ascribing fault and blame, but that doesn’t mean I did something to make you that way. (hypothetically… I mean I’m a bit of a dick and I’ve no doubt many people are far more cynical because of me personally.)

            An apology for things going bad and a promise to do better might not be a promise to cancel school more in the future, it might be figuring out a way to handle busses that are stuck in the snow better, it might be working with the city to ensure that bus routes are better plowed in the future… it might be creating a path for canceling school early or canceling some schools to allow others to dismiss early… Lots of possibilities, but they shut them all down by saying “well we didn’t know!” as if the only way to mitigate risk is with perfect foresight…

          • carla barnhill

            The complete statement from SPPS says this: “Saint Paul Public Schools offers its sincerest apologies to the students, staff and the families who were impacted by buses that were delayed by many hours.” Seems like an apology to me.

          • QuietBlue

            Yes. They were wrong to not trust the forecast. They need to err on the side of safety in their position, because the risks of preparing for a lot of snow and it not happening are worse than not preparing for a lot of snow and having it happen, as we saw last night.

          • carla barnhill

            Actually, there are some risks involved in canceling school too. For some kids, school is the only place they get fed during the day. It might be the only place they have adaquate heat. There would have been lots of kids home alone yesterday if they’d cancelled because not every parent can drop everything and take the day off. These considerations have to be weighed along with the weather.

          • QuietBlue

            Sure. I understand that it’s not a decision they make lightly. But are those risks worse than what happened?

          • jeb_r

            In retrospect, it seems like it would have been better to have cancelled school on Monday than to have what happened yesterday.

            However, what would be better is for SPPS to be truly prepared for such a storm, especially when it’s easily within the realm of possibility to see the snow we had where we had it. From what I’ve heard, MPS handled it okay. SPPS should be able to handle a slightly-more-snow-than-expected-but-still-within-a-reasonable-forecasted-range event without students being stuck until 11 PM.

          • Canceling or not canceling school is entirely defensible for the reasons you cite. But, again, those aren’t the reasons they cite. They’re citing an alleged failure of the forecast. That’s the issue.

            A little more troubling, and not talked about much in this space, is the number of “I don’t knows” by school officials when quizzed about the status of schools and the number of kids. I can see where that might upset parents when the response to “where’s my kid?” is “I don’t know.”

          • carla barnhill

            Now there we agree completely. And I think this is one of the many reasons they don’t do early dismissals or late starts. That would be a whole new level of chaos.

          • carla barnhill

            But I do think you’re giving the forecast too much credit. It changed multiple times, even as the storm was hitting us.

          • lusophone

            The more I think about SPPS’s response, the less I feel they are “blaming” meteorologists. I do think they are trying to deflect blame from themselves, but a forecast is a prediction, never a certainty. Their response can be read more like we couldn’t be 100 percent positive of the impending weather conditions and we made the decision as best we could. I do think they have issues with their bus system that this episode exposed. They should come up with fixes for the future.

          • Well you have to take the school system at its word when they say if they’d known there would be 8 inches of snow, they’d have done things differently. Clearly there was lots of data showing that there’d be 8 inches of snow, so I guess they’d have to say they’re sorry for either (a) not knowing the data that was available to them or ( b) not doing things differently.

            They could be sorry for either one of those things because they wrote those words.

            It’s always the coverup that trips you up. Just accept responsibility for the call that was made, defend it with actual facts and move on. But shifting the blame to people who did a great job ? That’s silly.

        • According to the Updraft archive, there was no storm predicted on the 18th. On the 17th they cited a POSSIBLE storm on Thursday the 21st. On the 20th, the National Weather SErvice predicted 1-2″ for the cities. By 3 a.m. they were predicting less than an inch. The cities got a dusting.

      • George M. Calger

        Bob, I’m going to take issue with the prickly spin that you yourself put on this in the article above, because it is not accurate. SPPS: “Had we known that the City of Saint Paul was going to get up to 8 inches of snow ****between 2 and 6 p.m.****, SPPS may have taken a different course of action.” [**** are mine for emphasis, because that part is very important to what they meant]

        That is certainly *not* the same thing as claiming, “[the 4:15am snow totals map graphic] called for the up to 8 inches of snow the school system said it didn’t know the city would get.” Bob, SPPS *never* said it didn’t know to expect up to 8 inches, falling throughout the day, but the fact that such heavy snow fell, in addition to what had already fallen, during the worst possible afternoon hours, was something I never heard or saw forecasted. Please correct me if I’m wrong. MPR’s on-air report Mon. morning did say 6-8 for the central Cities from 9am to c. 9-midnight, but didn’t mention a “good likelihood” of more in Saint Paul, just a “chance”. SPPS had already made the decision to be open before I heard that report. But that unexpectedly heavy afternoon snow is what created the horrible conditions out there on many of the arterial streets with hills –– plows can’t move or keep up in heavy traffic; hills and this greasy snow, etc. (I got stuck in traffic for an hour on 3/4 mile of Hennepin because of the short hill up to 280.)

        It certainly does not absolve SPPS if they poorly-considered updated weather reports after they decided to keep schools open, but you, Bob, and MPR need to be more diligent in reporting accurately, without the false, assumptive opinion-spin on their statement (especially with all the unfair attacks on media these days…).

        Up to 8 inches falling over four hours is VASTLY different thing to consider than up to 8 inches, or even 10-14, over the course of twelve hours or more (though a “high likelihood of 10-14” forecast might have closed schools, but then the map would have been different, right? Sure, they probably should have erred on the side of caution and closed schools much earlier, but they thought they’d be okay with a little head start. But instead, they got a heavy-snow nightmare of busing logistics.

        • // but didn’t mention a “good likelihood” of more in Saint Paul, just a “chance”.

          I’m not sure what you’re looking for in those two terms. As this snow was moving north and developing, the meteorologists early in the day were noting snowfalls at the rate of 1-2″ an hour in the areas where it was snowing. They were clear that the line was going to be over the Twin cities (just south, actually) and they were warning for 24-36 hours ahead of time that the line could move.

          // It certainly does not absolve SPPS if they poorly-considered updated weather reports after they decided to keep schools open, but you, Bob, and MPR need to be more diligent in reporting accurately, without the false, assumptive opinion-spin on their statement

          Sorry, no sale. They’re responsible for their statement and they’re responsible for shifting the blame to the forecast.

          I’m sorry they’re looking for someone to blame but it’s not my job to be an extension of the public relations team at St. Paul Schools. They blamed a bad forecast. The forecast wasn’t bad. That’s not spin. That’s the facts. And if you look at the forecast map above, you’ll see the line of 8-12″ was literally just south of Holman Field.

          I have no issue with their decision to keep schools open or close schools; I simply don’t care. I have an issue with claming a bad forecast. It wasn’t a bad forecast. They played some odds as they saw them . They lost. That’s the way it goes.

          I recommend before the next storm, though, that they sit down with some meteorologists to better understand how forecasts work and what they do and don’t tell people and perhaps the difference between liklihood and chance too.

          • Here is the 4 a.m. NWS discussion (available online) on Sunday afternoon:

            The overall forecast reasoning remains the same. Precipitation
            will break out tonight across Iowa and inch northward Monday
            morning, eventually merging with the large deformation band to the
            west from the mid level low. The area from Fairmont, St. James,
            Mankato northeastward into west central Wisconsin still appears to
            be the epicenter for heaviest snow. Even some thunder is possible
            given the forcing and the mid level dry slot approaching from the
            south. LI`s go negative across much of Iowa Monday morning. This
            should result in 1 to 2 inch per hour snow rates within this
            corridor, especially from late morning through late afternoon. The
            mid level moisture cuts off abruptly northwest of the Twin Cities
            which will cease snow production. As mentioned above, there are
            still questions of where this will set up. The aggressively
            approaching dry slot from the south usually favors a snow band
            that sets up north of where originally expected. However, the
            presence of fairly widespread convection to the south and
            resultant latent heat release could focus the band a bit further
            south. The biggest key is how the mid level low will evolve, and
            unfortunately each model does this differently. The 12Z ECMWF and
            its ensembles have made quite a noticeable shift to the west, with
            the ensemble mean about 9 inches at MSP and its box and whiskers
            ranging from 4 to 14 inches.
            The 50th percentile of snow from a
            variety of models matches pretty closely with the storm total
            grid. Until this event moves deeper into the hi-res model window,
            we won`t have a clear idea how much convection or the dry slot
            influences where the band sets up. There may be additional updates
            to the headline configuration when clear trends present


            Here’s the 4 a.m. “discussion”:

            The Twin Cities metro still looks to have a tight snowfall gradient.
            With the RAP, HRRR, and HOPWRF now covering the temporal period of
            the storm, confidence is increasing that the southeast metro will
            see 6″+ of snow and the gradient may be a few miles northwest of
            earlier expectations. Did adjust the snow amounts upward along the
            northern gradient. Further aiding in this decision was the fact that
            overnight lightning across the state of Iowa wasn`t all that
            widespread. In addition, we`ve been watching a west to east band of
            snow developing from Canby through the metro toward Menomonie. This
            will produce some light snowfall this morning before the main event
            ensues for the metro mid morning, with the heaviest snow expected
            this afternoon.

            The HRRR and RAP show the potential for a heavy snow band to impact
            the metro mid afternoon leading up to the evening commute. This
            band could have 1-2″/hr rates given the strong mesoscale forcing
            associated with it and make for a very slow commute this evening.

          • George M. Calger

            Thank you for all the meteorological info for yesterday, Bob! Far more in-depth than on-air reports can be. (And SPPS should have *read* those detailed forecasts as critically as possible….) Thank you for all your hard work for MPR with all your colleagues!

            But I’m not certain you caught my main point, which really has nothing to do with whether SPPS made a bad call or not, nor played the blame-game. You wrote “… the up to 8 inches of snow the school system said it didn’t know the city would get.” SPPS did not say that. That is a misrepresentation, and my objection. Of course they knew snow was coming, and at least 6-8 a certainty for planning, possibility of more.

            You left out something: “…within a span of four hours, about 2-6pm”, which would have accurately represented their statement, as you expressed your objections to it. My objection is about scrupulous accuracy. As I said before, the difference between 8 inches falling across the day, and 8 inches in four hours [at the worst time of day], is huge when evaluating what to do. And for judging the competence of school officials.

            “The HRRR and RAP show the potential for a heavy snow band to impact the metro mid afternoon leading up to the evening commute. This band could have 1-2″/hr rates given the strong mesoscale forcing associated with it and make for a very slow commute this evening.”

            Ooh, smoking gun. Well, if they missed reading and evaluating this info, that’s their huge error, and they need to reëvaluate themselves. And as you said, work with meteorologists if they don’t already. Blame no one else but the Ether, SPPS. So, yes, I have zero problem with pointing this out, but not misrepresenting the statement while doing it. They rolled the dice for 6-8 total across the day, looks like, and came up with snake eyes. They own it.

            So they should not be shifting blame, but that wasn’t my objection.

            Why they evaluated poorly is another matter entirely. That they should have known better is a second matter. That they shifted blame is a third matter (and objectively, by their actual statement, they may not have meant to, but if not, their oversimplified wording certainly reads that way….)

            The forecasts were about as on-point as they can be, and SPPS should have considered them all. If they missed something, which is clear from the statement and the forecasts, it’s on them.

          • // You left out something: “…within a span of four hours, about 2-6pm”, which would have accurately represented their statement

            I put there statement right there for everyone to see and evaluate as I see fit, so I’m not sure how I left something out since the statement was right there in the post. But let be more clear, then, in what I’m saying: Their statement is wrong. Their logic behind is flawed. Their assessment of the forecast was inaccurate.” Period.

            I don’t know how to put it any clearer.

          • George M. Calger

            I agree with your clear assessment. But again, that was not the main issue. There’s an important distinction here.

            Yes, you quoted from SPPS’ statement above, and then when I read your re-statement of their quote just after that, I thought to myself, “But that’s not what they said; you’re twisting their words!” By omission. Your generalized re-statement gave it a significantly different meaning (spin), as if SPPS was not expecting much if any snow depth despite the forecasts, as opposed to not expecting SO much to fall in a short time at a bad time of day.

            Their factual and logical errors are not the same thing as someone misrepresenting what they actually said in the statement. I think this distinction is so very important for good commentary and journalism in general –– scrupulous attention to the facts as we offer our informed opinions on what those facts tell us. “They claim [this specific thing], and this is why it’s not true: ….”

            The omitted info. was important for your readers to understand their (alleged) mindset –– such heavy afternoon snowfall might have made us think/act differently. And to understand their “Had we known…” to be either b.s. passive-aggressive blame-shift (based on clear NWS information they should have seen), or a terrible oversight/communication breakdown.

            If SPPS decision-makers truly did not know about the heavy snowfall forecast for the afternoon, that would be very serious incompetence. But yes, I too read “blame-shift” between the lines.

        • ggmsp

          Exactly, George. I think the school district could have been more clear in their statement, but I thought the same thing. Even Bill Enderson on Updraft yesterday morning was saying he was estimating “around a half foot” by the time the night ended. Apparently, this thing cranked into a higher gear than was expected mid afternoon, and here in St. Paul road conditions deteriorated rapidly.

          There’s tremendous irony that people are having trouble interpreting a statement from the school district…

          • Again, NWS at 4 a.m.:

            The HRRR and RAP show the potential for a heavy snow band to impact
            the metro mid afternoon leading up to the evening commute. This
            band could have 1-2″/hr rates given the strong mesoscale forcing
            associated with it and make for a very slow commute this evening.

          • ggmsp

            Thank you for sharing that, Bob. (although you posted that after my comment, so I don’t know why your “again” statement is relevant.) That piece of information does support your original thesis, although I don’t believe that you had that information when you wrote the original blog post, because you only talk about totals, not intensity, in that original post. Whatever, you get the “You Were Right” award here.

          • I said “again” because I’d previously posted the information in a previous comment. I don’t have any control over how Disqus stacks the thread.

            I’m not trying to win a “you were right” award and I had the information because I read the NWS discussion twice a day, just as meteorologists do and their presentation is more than just the number of inches. So, again, the bottom line is I’m mostly concerned with facts and there are certain facts in this situation that people are trying to massage and it doesn’t pass the smell test when they do.

    • Andrea

      Erring on the side of caution is prudent. Anyone who lives in Minnesota understands that snowstorms and blizzards are dangerous and unpredictable. What about the students who have diabetes, asthma, seizures and other health conditions who were stuck on the buses late into the evening, who had not eaten since noon, and who possibly needed medication? Do you know how risky that is for a student with diabetes? The SPPS district’s emergency planning did not work yesterday for a Minnesota snow emergency. How will it work for an emergency of a higher level? There are lessons to be learned here.

  • chlost

    Our national reputation for handling large storms with ease may have taken a hit after this. I only hope that should there be a big snowstorm over the Superbowl week, it goes more smoothly. All of those folks, tons of money, big media coverage, all of those “infrastructure” issues and whole gobs of wet snow…..could be “interesting” as we Minnesotans are fond of saying.

    • Fortunately the rest of the nation was preoccupied with the shutdown.

    • John

      Oh I do hope it’s “interesting.”

      I’m going to do a massive grocery run this weekend, and then plan to not leave home anyways except to go to work after this weekend.

  • TimfromMN

    Maybe they should have blamed St. Paul Public works, who could not be bothered to plow most streets until their snow emergency took effect at 8pm. How any of the leaders of the public works still have a job is beyond me.

    • Postal Customer

      Isn’t Saint Paul the Most Livable City™?

  • John F.

    Props to those on the ground trying to get kids home. These people were overshadowed in the media by the terrible decision-making and finger-pointing by the district.

    Thank you to the folks who put in the extra hours and braved the worst of the storm to ensure the safety of our youngest generation. I can’t imagine what that was like – hell, I had a stressful enough time just getting myself home last night.

  • Postal Customer

    My kid’s school is closed today. We got the call yesterday at 9.45pm. Their reasoning was “poor road conditions.” But the roads were much better this morning than at 4pm yesterday when the buses were running. in fact, there was bare pavement in many places — my suburb does a great job clearing snow.

    So why were the schools closed? People just mad that it wasn’t closed yesterday?

    • jon

      Because the road conditions aren’t great, and the bus drivers that didn’t get home until midnight need a break before they start hauling kids again.

  • Sarah Jane

    A small gesture, but if you have the $ or time, consider bringing in some gifts/treats for the staff and bus drivers sometime this week-
    I’m baking some treats and bringing them in to my daughter’s school office tomorrow for all of the staff

  • AmiSchwab

    what’s wrong with st. paul?

  • weatherbuzzwords

    Glad the kids are safe. Forecast looked accurate to me. Looks like something was lost in translation.

  • Angry Jonny

    Holy crimony, 133 comments. You’d think all the midwestern weathertalk was just a stereotype waiting to happen…

    • Rob


  • jznlv

    I heard reports of 3 inches by many though admittedly i didnt see it on TV because I rarely watch it. Also , why dont people get 4wd here in MN, plenty of options out there, so many people were driving in circles