School Snow Days Likely Greater This Year

A weak El Nino could bring larger snowfall amounts to Connecticut this year. Middletown's new superintendent of schools Patricia Charles says she takes many factors into consideration before calling off classes.


Going back to school is looming for later this month, as Aug. 30 is the first day of classes. Now, in the dog days of summer, few people are thinking about the potential for school snow days later this year.

But weather folks do, and so to do the officials who set their annual school calendars each year.

Download the 2012-2013 Middletown Public Schools calendar here.

In Connecticut, public schools are required to have at least 180 instructional days each academic year and most districts include in their schedules several extra days in the event school has to be canceled because of snow.

With the mild winter of 2011-2012, which saw low snowfall amounts across the state, few districts canceled school because of snow.

They probably will this year, meteorologists say.

Forecasters with AccuWeather.com are projecting a weak to moderate El Niño will begin to dominate weather patterns in the Northeast by late in the summer. A weak El Niño, warm tropical air masses that blow west to east, brings with it greater snowfalls in the winter.

Superintendent of Schools Patricia Charles, who began Aug. 1, has honed her instinct over many years in educational leadership on bad weather and whether it is safe to conduct classes.

"Basically, if the roads are not safe, we call off or delay school. We have many student drivers, in addition to staff on the roads, that we must consider," Charles says.

"Buses need to be able to reach all parts of the district. With a school district of our size, the roads can be better on one side of town than in the other," Charles explains.

And the decision to affect school start or dismissal times is not hers alone.

"I benefit from the help of the maintenance department, city roads crew, neighboring superintendents, the bus company, and police to determine the safety of the roads, walkways, and school parking lots," Charles says.

When there is snow or ice, Charles explains, she has to make an informed decision very early in the morning.

"A decision is needed by 5:30 a.m. I start checking the weather reports early in the morning to determine when the storm will hit and how long it will last, keeping in mind that we might be able to get the students in, but we must get them home safely also. If it is at all possible to attend school, I look for that window to get the students there," Charles says.

If you’re a kid hoping for a school snow day later this year, a weak El Niño is the answer to your prayers.

"Historically, both strong La Niñas and weak El Niños have produced higher-than-average snowfall in the Northeastern U.S.," said Jack Boston, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com.

While there was little snowfall in the state last winter, Connecticut still saw enough disruptive weather to complicate school schedules during the academic year.

First, there was Tropical Storm Irene, which hit in late August last year, cutting power to about 800,000 across the state and forcing many school districts to delay the start of the school year, some by nearly a week.

Then, a freak October snowstorm that hit around Halloween again cut power to hundreds of thousands in Connecticut and forced school districts to close.  

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