Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Warnings vs. Crying Wolf

Everyone has different experiences with snow. Growing up in Utah, I became quite familiar with not only snow, but how it impacts day-to-day activities. It was rather simple: when it snowed, you stayed off the road as much as possible. If you did have to go out, you drove slowly and carefully.

I’ve lived in North Carolina for over six years now. Snow is rare. We may get a little about once a year. When we do, everything shuts down. If you’ve lived in a part of the world where snow is more common, this may seem strange—even to the point of over-reacting.

But consider the following: warmer areas, like North Carolina, simply don’t have the resources to handle the snow because it isn’t common. In addition, people who live where snow is rare aren’t experienced enough to know how to handle it. That’s not a criticism, that’s human nature.

I write this blog on the third day of school being closed. The forecast called for below freezing temperatures and up to four inches of snow to come in on Tuesday afternoon. Our local school district canceled school on Tuesday, even though the storm wasn’t supposed to come until the afternoon.

Some people (myself included) may scratch their heads and wonder why cancel so early for something that might happen later in the day. Here are two things I should have remembered from all my years of working in TV news:

First: weather is very unpredictable.

Second: weather can be dangerous.

Just a few years ago, a tornado touched down a few miles away from us. Here’s a picture of what it did to a sign in the area:

Now consider what happened in Atlanta during this recent storm. According to media reports, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm alert for Atlanta at 3:38 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 hours before the worst of the traffic set in.

It can be argued that officials didn’t take it as seriously as they could have. What happened? People were jammed on the roads for hours. School children were stuck in school buses, and some students even had to spend the night at schools. 
Photo courtesy of ABC News
Here, in North Carolina, they took the warning more seriously and we avoided many of the same issues Atlanta faced.

But I say there is room for improvement. I was, and am, openly critical of Wake County Public Schools for waiting until after 9 pm on Tuesday to announce that schools were going to be closed on Wednesday.

Why? Well, when the National Weather Service “cried wolf,” meaning a storm may be coming, the school district acted cautiously—and I agree with what they did. People’s safety should come first.

However, once the storm hit, meaning the wolf was actually at the door, the school district waited until their scheduled meeting time of 9 pm to make the decision.

When school is canceled, it often requires parents to adjust their plans to make sure their kids are taken care of.

Here’s a not so humble suggestion: when the wolf is at your door, don’t wait for a pre-scheduled time in the future to decide what to do about it. 

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