Snow days

Snow in the Methow Valley

It’s snowing, a condition that terrifies most of us in the central Puget Sound region because snow falls so infrequently. We like looking at it, but prefer that it stay in our mountains where it belongs.

Now retired, I can finally smile when I see the snow.  For years, one of my job responsibilities was to try to wake up when the phone rang at four a.m. with the news that school was closed for the day or starting late. I then recorded, remotely, in the comfort of my pajamas, a message for the “Snow Line.” A colleague, an early riser, later saved me from the four o’clock wake-up call by volunteering  to record the message.

After this welcome reduction in responsibilities, my snow day job consisted solely of answering calls and emails from the fifty percent who were unhappy with whatever decision — close schools, keep schools open, start late — the superintendent had made. Making a call that pleased everyone was virtually impossible, which is why on snow days I found correspondence in the department email inbox such as, “What are you people smoking there? You are complete idiots. That was the dumbest decision I’ve ever heard.” It turns out that people who leave messages like this don’t expect them to be read and certainly don’t anticipate a reply. I wrote a polite response and later enjoyed reading the writer’s attempts to backpedal:  “I didn’t realize my email was going to a real person. I didn’t expect a response. I didn’t mean to sound so nasty. Thanks for getting back to me and clarifying the situation.”

Another time a man called and asked to speak to the a…hole who made the decision. We transferred his call to the assistant superintendent whose decision it had been. He picked up his phone and said, “You’re talking to the a…hole who made the decision.” I suspect the caller was as taken aback with the response as my emailer seemed to be.

One year the local television stations put everyone in tailspin for at least a week by predicting a coming massive snowstorm and then announcing it would arrive in the middle of the next morning’s commute, painting a picture of gridlock and terror on the highways. Based on these end-of-the-world scenarios, the superintendent announced school would be closed the following day. Of course the massive snowstorm arrived twenty-four hours late and we had egg on our faces.  The same reporters who had been hyping the storm for days, called to ask me why we had closed schools. I had to bite my tongue not to say, “Because you have been warning us for at least a week that the storm of the century would deliver devastation today.”

I remember assuming the role of weather forecaster the year we experienced a week of weather-related closures.  The last week in March forecasters predicted snow. One near-hysterical parent called to say that if we closed schools one more day, he was moving his child to a private school that never closed for snow. I was certain he was wrong about the private school, but in an effort to keep our enrollment numbers up, I told him that the forecasters were wrong, the predicted snow was not coming and schools would be open the next day. Luckily, my prediction was more accurate than the experts’.

PTA parents released their frustration on the superintendent one year by creating a spinner to help him make closure decisions. This consisted of a piece of cardboard cut into a circle with different options written around the edges. They told him this would take the guesswork out of school closure decisions. He should spin the metal arrow in the center and wherever it landed he would find a prescription for what to do in the event of snow. No doubt this technique would have worked as well as any other.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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4 Responses to Snow days

  1. Karen Clark says:

    I have to say this is a part of the job I do not miss at all. I didn’t mind getting up at 4 to hear from transportation how the roads were doing around the district or even making the best call I could given the information and predictions — but the second guessing and anger from parents and staff because I had or had not closed or started on time or late got old real fast!

  2. Tina Butt says:

    I had the same response to the snow. I first thought, “How fortunate that it is happening on a long weekend” accompanied with a long stream of memories. And then the blissful realization that I am no longer in charge of no responsible for dealing with the issue. Let it snow!

  3. We are a case in point … The snow has been falling for hours now at our house (upper part of Clyde Hill). We have several inches — enough for kids to sled down our street (we’re the sledding street). Just spoke to my friend on Mercer Island who said she had no snow. So I just looked at traffic cameras for Bellevue … little or no snow everywhere else. If today were a school day, people here would think it’s insane not to call a snow day if they didn’t know that literally a couple blocks away it’s a completely different story.

  4. In Issaquah, which covers some 400 square miles, we can have ice and snow at one end and warm breezes at the other but the school district has to close based on the worst-case scenario. It always led to many heart-warming phone calls from parents at one of the spectrum or the other 🙂 And when I worked at King County, there were always experts to explain that we should be snow-plowing everyone’s roads within hours. No explanation about how those snowplows were supposed to get there through blinding snow. As someone who grew up in Spokane, where it snows consistently through the winter, watching Puget Sound citizens’ reactions to snow has always been a little bit of a sport.

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