How does a school system decide to close for a snow day?

SHELBY COUNTY, Ala (WIAT) — It’s a tough thing, predicting how wintry weather could impact the south.  “You’ve got to have the moisture, you’re got to have the cold, there’s so many different things that have to come into play,” explained Shelby County’s EMA Director, Hub Harvey.  “To really be able to say– well in Mrs. Baker’s backyard at 7:37 it’s going to snow half an inch?  That is really difficult.”

It’s also tough to keep tabs on a forecast like the one that could hit central Alabama on Friday.  Officials with the EMA, sheriff’s office, and Shelby County School system are just a few of the stakeholders who know–all too well–how quickly it can change.

The conditions that crippled central Alabama back in 2014 continue to be a topic of conversation at weather briefings like the one officials had around lunchtime on Thursday.  “It takes several days [to prepare] but there are times when we have not had several days, we’ve had 30 minutes,” remembered Shelby County Schools Deputy Superintendent, Tom Ferguson.

This time–they’ve had a couple of days.  Harvey said that his staff has been watching the possibility for snow for the past 5 days.  He’s also noticed how things have subtly changed since the 2014 storms.  “A lot of times for winter weather we’ll hold these briefings at 5:00 am,” he said.  “There will be times that I get here at 4:30 am and there are people already waiting outside to make sure they get a seat.”

Despite that, that doesn’t mean that all of the stakeholders that attend the briefings know exactly what the forecast will mean for their people.  “They’re not giving us information about what to expect on roads, how this is going to effect bus routes, how much snow at what particular time–if we’re even going to get it,” said Ferguson.  “What we’re getting is information–as far as the state is concerned, that will help us make decisions on what to expect.”

Ferguson told CBS 42 that they collaborate with all of the other agencies to make the most informed decision about whether or not to close.  That includes law enforcement, the Department of Transportation, the EMA, and other school systems.  They also have to take a lot of variables into consideration including the children, their families, school staff, the buses, and where their families live and work.

Shelby County Schools are now among those that will be closed on Friday.  You can find a full, constantly updating list here.

“We make the best decision we can,” said Ferguson; “get the best information out there.  If we make a decision to delay schools or if we make a decision to close schools, we know that even after that decision is made–something could change.  We’ve received that criticism when we have closed schools or we have left early and the sun is shining, and everything is just perfectly normal.  Things changed.”

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