Published in the Delaware County Daily Times
As a school superintendent for more than 15 years, I lived in terror of snow/ice, primarily because I regularly had to decide whether or not and when to send nearly 100 school buses into inclement weather. Under Pennsylvania law, the Upper Darby School District has the responsibility of not only busing its own students who qualify via the distance requirements, but every other youngster who lived in Upper Darby and attended a private or parochial school in the tri-county area. So our Upper Darby buses picked up and/or dropped off many thousands of kids every day and the winter months were often a nightmare.
What I remember from those years was lots of complaints … no matter what my decision. School closings especially caused trouble. For 60 to 70 percent of my Upper Darby students, school each day was a “critical service” since for so many homes, both parents worked. We also had “before and after school add-ons” so for working parents, this was a terrific asset … except when schools were not open, or opened late, or closed early.
In my case prior to any decision-making, I always had multiple staff people out on Upper Darby’s roads “field-testing,” whether in the middle of the night or during the day so that I was relying on first-hand accounts of road conditions rather than the news media. This evidence really helped when explaining my decisions to school board members and/or parents. And I always prioritized “safety first.”
My worst year was a week in 1996 when sheets of ice covered Upper Darby’s roads and the temperatures were consistently just around zero degrees. I kept schools closed for a week after this ice storm because of the safety issues with busing. Parents were not happy! Finally, after five agonizing days, the weather warmed up, the ice melted and my life was saved.
All weather forecasts should be considered “prophecies” because they may or may not come true. It took me a while but I eventually learned that the primary purpose of weather forecasts via the news media was “ratings,” so scaring people to death was a priority. Accuracy with weather forecasts was “shaky at best” and not really the priority.
So in David Letterman style, based on 15 years of experience on the front lines in winter storms, here is my Top Ten list of scientifically developed ways to accurately predict weather from “most accurate” at the top to “least accurate” at the bottom.
Predicting snow and ice storms, from most accurate at the top to least accurate at the bottom:
• Ask your local fortune teller
• Check your horoscope
• Roll some dice
• Get your palm read
• Visit your local witch
• Use voodoo
• Check how your bunion feels
• Look out the window
• Consult the national weather service
• Watch the local TV meteorologists
Joseph Batory was the Upper Darby School District Superintendent of Schools from 1984 to 1999. This article is excerpted from memoirs in his first book, “Yo! Joey!” with permission of the publisher, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD and Oxford, UK.