Fairfax and Loudoun County and some other school systems are under fire for their decision not to close today and it’s completely understandable. In my view, they should have at least delayed given available information and then closed after watching conditions deteriorate.
Yes, forecasters, including the Capital Weather Gang, underestimated the amount of snow that would fall by a couple inches. We forecast 1-2 inches of snow for Fairfax and Loudoun counties, with locally up to 3 inches. Totals are closer to 3-4 inches (with some isolated 5-inch amounts).
However, despite the underestimates, we were very clear snow would begin between 4-6 a.m., which it did. We were very clear accumulating snow would coincide with commuting time – which it did. We were very clear the commute would be a difficult one – which it was.
The National Weather Service did its part, issuing a winter weather advisory for the region.
(Note that the SchoolCast we issued yesterday favored at least delays in all of these counties and a 50-50 chance of shutting down for the day.)
Here’s a great rant from WUSA9 meteorologist Howard Bernstein on these decisions:
I have to just call out Fairfax County Public Schools, Loudoun County Public Schools, Prince William County Public Schools for their terrible calls on not closing today. At least Montgomery had a 2 hour delay and then finally closed around 820 AM.
The snow was in the forecast and the onset of snow was also in the forecast. With temps in the 20s and even some upper teens, I am amazed that the road conditions were so difficult to anticipate for these jurisdictions.
Looking on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, one can easily see evidence of how bad it is this morning.
Let’s hope the “decision makers” re-evaluate how they do things and learn something from this, but today’s grade is an ‘F’ to Fairfax, Prince William & Loudoun”
Of course, it’s very easy for meteorologists to criticize schools and the school closing decisions are very complex. I am not unsympathetic to the challenges involved. (I may have been too hard on Fairfax County last year when I wrote it needed to “toughen up” when it remained closed two days after a moderate snow event).
At the time schools needed to make the decision today, steady snow had not yet begun. In most forecasts, locations south of the District were near the dividing line between a dusting and 1-2 inches of snow. Fairfax County probably thought it could withstand a little bit of light, powdery snow zipping through the area. Loudoun County’s decision is less defensible given forecasts for more snow there.
In electronic messages dispatched to constituents (see below), both counties deflect blame for the decision by talking about the storm being worse than predicted.
Loudoun County statement
But a consistent forecast for accumulating snow and subfreezing temperatures during commuting hours – in an area so vulnerable to frozen precipitation – should always be a red flag for decisionmakers. Fairfax and Loudoun County should accept responsibility for essentially ignoring this flag in today’s case and apply lessons learned from this event into future.
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