Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold and Snow

When I woke up this morning, the outdoor temperature sensor on our clock informed me that it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit outside (for Flutterby and my Canadian friends, that’s, like -20 Celsius, which are like ‘metric degrees’, or something like that). And immediately, my kids were all excited, bouncing with glee at the possibility that school would be called off, because it’s so cold. Which hasn’t happened yet this school year, but has happened roughly once or twice a year for the past few years.

Excuse me, but. . . what the hell?

It’s COLD. I get that. But, the school’s got a heating system, right? I mean, if the pipes froze and burst, I’d get that. If neighborhood vandals broke all the windows, and there were snow drifts in the classrooms, I’d get that. But – no school because it’s COLD? Sorry, I don’t get that.

I could see that it’s too cold to send the kids out to the playground for recess. So, keep ‘em inside. I get that. But to close the school, just because it’s cold? What's that about?

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My goodness, when I was growing up, Up North (and here I am going to begin shamelessly channeling my dad, which is a little weird, because he’s still alive) I remember one time, when I was in 7th grade, when I had to wait for the bus (along with 20 or so other kids who had the same bus stop) in -30F one day (which, in Celsius, is still colder than hell). For two hours. Because none of the buses would start. Because it was minus-freakin’-thirty out. After an hour or so, the lady whose house was nearest the bus stop opened her garage door for us, so we could at least have a little shelter. But, by golly, once they finally got one of the buses sufficiently thawed-out to come and take us to school, we went to school. Which had been open, even before we got there.

And when I was in college, we’d trek a mile or more across campus in negative temperatures, and everybody would look about forty years old, because their breath would frost off on their hair, so it looked like they were going gray. You had to be a little careful about how you placed your notebook for the first 10 minutes or so of class, because the ice would melt off your beard, and you’d soak your notes, if you weren’t careful. . .

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Now, Up North, we had snow days. We had LOTS of snow days. ‘Cuz when, you know, the janitor can’t even get to the building to unlock the doors and turn the lights on, well, you know, you can kinda understand why you might need to call off school.

Heck, one year, we had ten snow days; at the height of the winter, they had to dig tunnels to get to a couple of the entrances to the school. And the ten snow days included five-and-a-half in ONE WEEK! We’d had a teacher’s strike in the fall, and in order to make up the lost days, the administration scheduled a few Saturday sessions, in order to bring us up to the minimum number of school days mandated by the state. We went to school on Monday, but by noon, it was snowing so hard that they decided to send us all home while the buses could still get the rural kids to their homes. It snowed hard all day Monday, and most of Tuesday – 24 inches in all. Wednesday, the whole town was digging out, and we expected to go back to school on Thursday.

But it started snowing again Wednesday night, and it continued snowing all day Thursday – another 18 inches. And I gotta tell you, that was one of the character-forming experiences of my – and my brother’s - youth, shoveling 42 inches of snow off our driveway in one week. And, let’s be clear, I do mean ‘shoveling’; snow-blower technology was still in its infancy in those days, and besides, my dad figured he had a couple teenage boys, who he had to feed anyway, who could provide all the snow-removal motive force that was required. Anyway, after a certain point, our capacity to clear the driveway threatened to be limited by our ability to throw the snow over the piles of previously-removed snow, which, by Thursday evening, towered high above our heads. And I won’t even mention the mess at the bottom of the driveway when the plow finally came down our street Friday afternoon.

So, school was closed on Friday. And it so happened that that Saturday was one of the ‘added days’ from the strike. Which were not terribly popular with the students OR the faculty (but, you know, the law’s the law). And, since the ‘back-county’ roads were still being dug out, school was called off for Saturday, too. So we had five-and-a-half snow days in one week. Which must be some kind of record, or something.

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So, I understand snow. Heck, when I was in college, my mega-university closed for snow, for only the second time in its history, when we got an 18-inch blizzard in January of ’78. It pretty well shut down most of Lower Michigan. And do not underestimate the capacity of college students, whose classes have been cancelled, for some monumental feats of stupidity.

A group of guys on the top floor of our four-story dorm decided (with plenty of, uh, ‘lubrication’, you can be sure) that it would be really cool to jump out of their windows into the 8-10-foot-high snow drifts that had piled up against the wall. So, for an hour or so, guys were lining up to jump out of 4th-floor windows into the huge snow drift. They would let out a yell while they fell, and then they’d land with a muffled ‘WHUMP’ in the snow. And the snow absorbed the energy of their fall quite nicely. The drift extended all along the outside wall of the dorm, so, as the drift got beaten down in one location, the jumpers just moved progressively down to the other rooms on the 4th floor. After a while, the supply of willing jumpers began to dwindle, and they started to grab guys out of the shower, to throw them, wet and naked, into the snow drift below. It was the very picture of drunken college hijinks.

Until one of the jumpers inadvertently discovered the bike rack concealed beneath the snow drift, which left him with a few broken bones. After that, the mood was kinda killed. . .

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So, yeah – snow days, I understand. But closing school, just because it’s COLD? Sorry; I don’t get that. . .

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Edit, Jan. 16 - The kids didn't actually have a cold day yesterday, which was a bit of a bummer, at least as far as they were concerned. But today, it was -12F, and the phone rang at 6AM (does anybody else get robo-calls from their school district, giving them the daily attendance report, announcing PTA meetings, etc?), with the word that school has been called for today. I've learned since yesterday that the criterion for 'cold days' is a wind chill below -20F. Apparently, it doesn't take much wind to get there, when the air itself is already minus-12. . . (*sigh*)

14 comments:

Sailor said...

Growing up in Minnesota, I hear you on the cold thing. We didn't have snow days, or very few, because I grew up in St. Paul, and there were so many snow plows to put on the streets, they cleared 30" in less than 15 hours.

I laughed my head off though, the one time when our "imported" governor (Came from some eastern wimpy state) decided to close the state- because it was cold!?! Shheeeessh. What's that about- it was -40 in the Twin cities, a heat wave!

for a different kind of girl said...

My kids, who attend schools in a district where I've rarely seen a child walking to or from school (seriously, the parent pick up line is not for the weak of heart), are not in classes today because of the cold temps. Several districts made the decision to close due to the temperatures. Granted, it was -18F when I came downstairs at 8 a.m., but there's been very little class this week (they were already scheduled for no school tomorrow due to inservice day), and I can't wait to spring on them the fact that school will now inch into June, so who's cold now, suckas!

FTN said...

The schools here don't let my kids outdoors for recess if it's below 32F. So when it gets into single digits here where I live, that's REALLY cold.

And I've seen them cancel school or issue 2-hour delays here for no discernible reason. Just the CHANCE of a bit of ice or snow can do it.

All this is making it sound like I live in some tropical location where it's always 80 degrees. Not the case.

I did grow up further north, though, and I remember the blizzard of '78. We took a ton of pictures of us kids playing in snow tunnels we had built. And my Dad and brother jumping off the roof into the feet of snow. I was almost 2 at the time. :-)

Also, we had snow pants and snowsuits growing up that we'd wear to school with our boots and hats and gloves and scarves and huge coats. No one where I live now, including my wife, even knows what that is. "Snow pants? What are snow pants?"

Xavier said...

Lawyers ..... least-wise that's why they do it here. Some parents sued a school 'cause their kid got frostbite walking to school on a cold day a decade or two ago so they instituted a minimum allowable wind-chill rule.

lime said...

uh yeah, this is where i have to agree with you. we've had that occur on rare occasions and i don't get it either. the college memories are pretty great though...yours and the ones you sparked for me. we had a massive blizzard my freshman year and classes were canceled. it was an absolute hoot to take a bunch of foreign students from tropical countries into the big snow for the first time in their lives.

the other thing that elicits the "back in my day" speech real fast is when my darling children ask me to drive them to the bus stop because it is raining. please understand the bus stop is maybe 100 feet away from the front door. are you out of your mind? here's a raincoat and an umbrella. go! move you in the car for 100 ft because you don't want a few drops of rain to hit you...gimme a break. you're not the wicked witch of the west you won't melt (and actually if we're going to get technical, she dissolved, she didn't melt, but that's a separate rant.) i walked 8 blocks to school and i used an umbrella, raincoat and my mother made me wear the most horrifyingly embarrassing red rubbers on my feet. drive you to the bus stop....

Phyllis Renée said...

Um, I just want to say, Desmond, that describing sub zero temps as "colder than hell," doesn't quite make sense. C'mon. 115°F is colder than hell.

I'm just saying. :)

Cocotte said...

I was going to say what Xavier said about the school's fearing lawsuits. There are kids in our district who walk to school, so if there's a chance of frostbite, it's going to get canceled. My kids are really hoping that happens here tomorrow.

Blizzard of '78 was one of the few snow days my school district ever got. We had a superintendent who NEVER canceled school. Even my mom would complain about it. Every school in our state would be canceled and we'd still have school. I think I only got 4 snow days in 13 years. My kids usually get 4 each year.

Bunny said...

As a former Michiganian from an area subject to "lake effect" snow, I can attest to the lowered standards for closing schools these days. We went to school in "snowmobile suits," but by God, we went to school when it was bitter freakin' cold. We did get off for that blizzard in '78 (and the one in '77 and the one in '79), but cold was nuthin'.

I was very involved with the schools in the large city I lived in before fleeing south. I asked the superintendent about a couple of "cold" days when school was canceled. He said that the determination to close for cold weather was to protect children who did not have sufficient cold weather clothing to withstand waiting at the bus stop or walking to school in the cold. This includes the high schoolers, who were not provided district transportation and had to walk or ride public transportation. More than half the kids in the district (that's more than 10,000 kids) got free lunch, so with that many poor kids it's a pretty good bet that many didn't have sufficient cold weather clothing.

Guess nobody cared about the poor kids back in the 70s!

Bunny said...

Oh yeah -

Back when we had those ridiculous late 70s blizzards, we regularly used up all our snow days and had to tack them on at the end of the year. One year we actually went until the last week in June to make up all the snow days. That sucks, especially in un-air-conditioned school.

flutterby said...

Today, with the wind chill, it was -47 degrees Celcius, which is something like -52F??? I did drive my kids out to the bus stop and let them sit in the car instead of waiting as there was a Windchill Warning in effect and exposed flesh would freeze in 5 minutes.

It's warmed up a lot throughout the day... forecast is for a high of -1C tomorrow, which I'll believe when I see.

I don't think I've ever, ever seen an actual "Snow Day". There's been days when the buses wouldn't run out to rural areas (But you better believe that my Dad would drive me. grrrr.) but I can't recall the whole school ever being closed. We're hard core up here. :)

Desmond Jones said...

Sailor - So you understand, then. . . And I'm impressed that a city the size of St Paul would budget for enough plows to clear the streets in 15 hours. . .

faDKoG - Yeah, see today's update. . . That pushing-it-to-the-end-of-June thing should always be kept in mind when you're tempted to call 'cold days', eh?

FTN - Gosh, I'm impressed that you remember the Blizzard of '78; 'cuz youd've been like, less than two years old, right?

And Autumn doesn't know what 'snow pants' are? Seriously? Man, there's a whole segment of winter humor (the whole taking-twenty-minutes-to-get-bundled-up-and-now-I've-gotta-pee thing) that she wouldn't even get. . .

Xavier - Yeah, I figured it'd be something like that. Thing is, the school our kids attend, there are maybe six kids who walk to school, and half of 'em are ours. . .

Lime - At my university, there was one dorm that was almost exclusively populated by foreign grad students, and it was always fun to go by there during the first snowfall, to see all the Southern Hemisphere guys out on the lawn, taking pictures of each other. . .

And your kids want you to drive 'em 100ft in the rain? I tell you, kids these days. . . My mom used to say to us, "If you were made of sugar, you might dissolve, but you ain't that sweet. . ."

Phyllis - Yeah, I see what you mean. . . But I was working out of more of a Dantean model, you see. . .

Cocotte - Yeah, I eventually figured out that it was a kids-who-walk-to-school thing.

And I probably shouldn't be the one to point out that remembering the Blizzard of '78 sorta betrays your age (unless you're the Numb One, who can apparently remember things from before he was even conceived. . .)

Bunny - OK, now you're making me feel like a schmuck. That it's not even so much a kids-walking-to-school thing, as much as a kids-walking-to-school-who-don't-have-proper-cold-weather-clothes thing. I don't want to find little Billy's frozen carcass huddled under somebody's shrubs, either. (*sigh*) Thanks for providing the necessary perspective. . .

Flutter - Nicely done on the Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion! And hey, -1C! That's working-on-your-tan weather in Canada, right?

And listen - we already knew you were hard-core. . . ;)

FTN said...

When I say "remember," I mean that my Mom has a ton of pictures of us out playing in the snow forts. For me, childhood memories = lots of pictures of the occasion. I actually *remember* very little of my childhood.

Big difference besides the snowpants and snowsuits, also, is snowmobiles. I grew up around them, riding them, driving them (when I was old enough), and using them in emergencies. I don't think I've ever seen a snowmobile where I live now. I doubt anyone around here even sells them.

Desmond Jones said...

FTN - Yeah, snowmobiles!

In the 42-inch, 5.5-snow-day blizzard I describe here, there were several days in which cars essentially couldn't go anywhere, and folks got around town on snowmobiles. It was really cool, seeing snowmobiles driving up and downlike cars, on the city streets. . .

And a few years ago, 3M, 4M and I went on a father-son retreat in January in the Upper Peninsula. During the winter, there were no open roads to the retreat center, so we had to drive to the nearest town, and take snowmobiles 10 miles or so to the retreat center. That was also very cool. . .

Michelle H. said...

Now see, THAT'S what I'm talking about. Colder than cold, having to walk to the bus stop, having to stand on the road because we lived in a rural area that had no sidewalks, freezing our butts off, and STILL going to school, that's a real winter story.

I also remember the times when if it got too cold, my father would park the truck at the end of the driveway and have us sit in it while waiting for the bus.

We also had a rule: If the bus didn't show up in 30 minutes, we could head home and miss classes.