February 16, 2006

Snow and lightning.

It's pouring snow here in Madison, Wisconsin, and I'm worrying about holding class this afternoon. Every time I turn to look out the window, it's snowing harder. And now, just then, lightning flashes. Thunder. Crazy weather!

I'm most worried that all the junk I put out by the curb last night is not going to be seen and therefore not picked up. I went out there with a broom to try to sweep the snow off the lower lying junk items that were most in danger of getting swallowed up by the white. I'll need to re-sweep soon enough.

Should I cancel my 1:20 class today? Never once in the 20 years I've been teaching up here in the north have I cancelled a class for snow. I'm sending out a message to my class email list, asking the students what we ought to do. There's all this snow. But there's also the Independent and Adequate State Ground Doctrine.

UPDATE: I did send out an email, at 9:20 am, cancelling my afternoon class. Lest you think I'm a slacker, the University later cancelled all classes, saying: "Cancellation of classes is a move rarely used at the university. The last time classes were cancelled was in December 1990, when more than 17 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period."

48 comments:

Charles said...

Ann after all those years you are going soft on the students? I went to school north of there and (then) the place had shut down for blowing driving blinding whiteout snowstorms 3 times in the 100+ year history. Make the class and give a quiz for spare points to be added to the final grade - a CurveBuster!

Jacques Cuze said...

netmeeting, webex, yim, aim, webcam, conservative law prof cam grrrl, irc, podcast,

Since you are all lawyers or lawyers to be, I suggest you move class to an underpass.

"pouring snow" yields 655 results.

JoeFriday said...

what Charles said.. good idea about extra credit.. besides, the vast majority of students at Madison don't rely on cars to get to class

I was just on the phone with our Middleton office, and my coworker there was just commenting on the oddity of lightning during a snowstorm, saying he had never seen that happen before. I recall seeing that same thing just a couple months ago during one of our other snowstorms this winter. hmmmm

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I think your "not cancelling class" is a Seinfeldian streak [he went 13 years without vomiting].


Don't cancel!! Look to the cookie.

Dave said...

If you can't see the junk, it doesn't exist.

Right?

So what are you worreid about?

griffin d. politico dog said...

Ann, why don't you teach the doctrine on your blog, and tell the students to read it? That way we can all be enriched with it. :)

bearbee said...

Plant a broom with an unfurled garbage bag attached....

Ann Althouse said...

Charles: Thinking like a lawyer, I can't help seeing unfairness: studens with children (who are home from school today) and students who live farther away feel a disparate impact.

My class meets from 1:20 to 2:40, so you've got to think about what it will be like to drive home at 3. It may be a long drive for some students.

Ann Althouse said...

Re: "pouring snow"

Yes, why don't we say "pouring snow" but we say "pouring rain"?

It's not as though only liquids pour. "When it rains, it pours" is a slogan used for salt, after all. And the Archies sang "Pour a little sugar on it, baby."

Gaius Arbo said...

Where I went to college, they never once cancelled class for snow. There routinely had drifts over 20 feet high, too. One time I got a letter from a friend back home complaining of a heavy storm dumping 18 inches of snow. The same night, we had over four feet of level snow!

howzerdo said...

When I was a student, my recollection is that class was rarely - maybe never - cancelled because of snow. In recent years, the university where I teach occasionally does cancel classes due to the weather. But they usually wait too long, practically until the last minute. So I am in the habit of calling my class off whenever I have doubts, and letting the students know ASAP via email. More students drive to campus now than did when I was an undergraduate. And I believe in being safe. I say, if you are feeling uncomfortable, cancel.
Gina

Ricardo said...

Teach the class twice. Offer it today, for the hardy. And then offer a no-penalty makeup session in the near future. That gives you the best of both world. Keeps your 20-year record alive, and accommodates the disparate impact people. It's an exceptional circumstance today, so offer an "exceptional solution".

And bearbee's broom idea is great, and works.

MadisonMan said...

Why not make the class into a podcast? The version of GarageBand that I have lets you embed graphics, so you could even give them a lot of figures to look at as you talk. I wouldn't cancel classes though. If it's unfair for some students, well, cut them some slack later, maybe. But life is inherently unfair.

I agree that the snow is thrilling to see and the thunder? Awesome. I wonder if the buses will take me home though?

David said...

Don't cancel the class. The students will be able to regale their children and friends in the future by carrying on the traditional, "You don't know how good you have it! In my day I had to walk through 5? feet of snow and dodge lightning strikes just to attend class."

jeff said...

Time to see if your students can telecommute...

Ron said...

Stay the course, Ann! If you can make it, so can they!

but please...no Archies references so early in the morning! Now that bubblegum is stuck in my head!

Will your attitude change when you move to the condo? It should be even easier to get to school right?

Drew said...

When it snows an inch here in Seattle, the whole school system shuts down! Then again, we have hills and overconfident drivers who think that 4-wheel-drive SUVs magically abolish the laws of friction.

Ann, do *you* feel safe going to school? If you don't feel safe, you should cancel.

Dave said...

Re: non-liquids pouring.

Also remember, Def Leppard and Pour Some Sugar on Me.

Seminal '80s music.

Cake said...

I suppose it is in indicative of the decline in the quality or educators today, but my 11 o'clock was cancelled, even though we were scheduled to sit for an exam. My professor didn't want us driving to and from class in this weather (I don't have to drive, but several students do.)
Ann, if I were you, I would cancell it. If it's snowing there like it's snowing up here (in the Green Bay area), it's going to be really difficult to get to class, even for people who live on campus.

Ann Althouse said...

I cancelled.

If a written version of the class was sufficient, I could say just read the book.

MadisonMan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MadisonMan said...

Well, since you cancelled, my last comment is unnecessary!

But I wonder: were there many students who lobbied against the closure? I think the weather will be okay by this afternoon, but of course the clean-up might not have progressed very far by then.

reader_iam said...

Crazy weather indeed.

At dawn it looked and felt and even smelled like dusk.

The next time I went outside, what I heard literally sounded exactly like those quick, sudden downpours you get in places like Key West--you know, the ones where you understand why the word "teeming" really is an example of onomatopoeia.

Except that it was streaking ice.

Flashes and thunder at the same time. Unearthly and rather beautiful. But slick as hell.

AJD said...

Cancelled for snow....in Wisconsin.

Ha ha.

What's next, professor, asking the students to grade themselves?

reader_iam said...

Hmmm. Can hell be slick?

Brad V said...

Cancel it!

I doubt all of your students have snowshoes like me.

Blondie said...

Ann - there's rumors on campus that the buses may shut down in a bit. Hopefully, they will give an update soon for anyone already here or trying to get here. It is confirmed that the buses are 20 minutes behind schedule.

Just an FYI for you and your students.

Elizabeth said...

Snow and LIGHTNING? Sweet Jesus. Perhaps it's not as scary as it sounds, but I have a weather fetish these day and I'm spooked.

Me, your experience is like mine. Pre-Katrina, our university had to close for hurricanes three times in the previous year. Each time the storm was no more than 48 hours out, sometimes less than 36. I doubt they'll be so reluctant now. Having read all about the 1900 Galveston storm, I was already making my own decisions and cancelling classes in time to evacuate if necessary. I used to worry I'd get reprimanded. Now I don't care.

Stiles said...

You get thundersnow when there is strong convective activity associated with the storm system. It can happen in strong winter systems when there is enough of a temperature gradient and moisture, like today's in Wisconsin or a strong Nor'easter. It's a bit less rare in lake effect storms, which are low-topped convective events to start with. Today was the first thundersnow I have experienced outside of a lake effect band. The sound of thunder doesn't travel as far in a snowstorm as in the rain.

It was pretty nasty for a while this morning . I went to work for a while just north of Madison and the drive back wasn't fun even with four wheel drive and snow tires. But the convection has moved east and we're in the dry slot of the system now, so the worst is over. Probably light snow off and on for the rest of the afternoon.

reader_iam said...

I'd never experienced a thundersnow until moving to Iowa; we've had a number of them right where I am, though apparently they don't occur everywhere in the state. I keep wondering if it has something to do with the fact that we're right on the Mississippi River (in the one place that it runs East to West, rather than North to South), which I can glance out of my window and see right now. I don't know much about how weather works beyond the basics, but I'm curious about this one.

Gaius Arbo said...

Winter thunder-snow-storms are REALLY cool at night. The whole sky flashes white! It's really wild the first time you see it.

Charles said...

Ann, am glad you cancelled. You avoided listening to the whining about having to show up, and also avoided teaching the students a life lesson for when they have jobs - if the children have school cancelled they can just stay home too. No sense having them plan for a backup system where they had a sick child, but still have to go to work or they don't get paid that day; or it's child spring break, but still parental work day. I am sympathetic, but these are not 18 year old freshman in law school - nearly adults in the work force defending actual clients with a lot at stake. I am willing to work with my students about missing class and makeups, but it has to be more than they didn't plan ahead.

Ann Althouse said...

Charles: I am personally snowed in, and have cancelled three other things today.

me said...

Charles,

What about the safety issue? It is a law school class. It can be easily be made up. Why would you want someone driving under these conditions if not totally necessary.

jac said...

I've already been out today and dread having to get back out. It isn't so much the snow itself but the fact that the roads are really dangerous right now. My apartment complex has yet to be plowed after the whiteout earlier this morning. I probably can't even get off the apartment complex in less than an hour or two. Being from Mississippi, my vehicle (an SUV) and is not 4WD or AWD. *sigh* Just when I'm supposed to be flying to San Diego... I can't get to the airport.

Charles said...

Me: good point, a whole class full of future personal injury lawyers feeling badly about missing class - lawsuits galore!

I never heard a university prof say: oh we missed a class and you students can easily make that up!

I had assumed that the vast majority of students, like many campuses, walked to class - pardon my unfamiliarity with that university town.

Ann: Sorry to hear you are also now snowed in, but apparently weren't earlier.

Kurt said...

So let me get this straight. First Charles chides Ann for treating her students like a bunch of 18 year olds, then he expresses surprise that law students don't all live on campus like a bunch of 18 year olds. Nice.

Top Ten said...

Charles, even in the "real world" sometimes you can't make it to work because of the weather or a sick child. You just work harder or longer another day to make up for it-like Ann's students will.

My office shut down at 10:30 today because of the snow. I appreciate a company that understands that sometimes safety is more important than productivity.

Stacy said...

That first pic is really cool. I love pics like that.

When I was in law school that profs would NEVER cancel class, but then again so many of them lived close by.

Mike said...

Problem solved. University cancelled the remaining classes.

stealthlawprof said...

I have only seen "thunder snow" once. My understanding is that it is somewhat rare. I thought it was one of the most interesting natural phenomena I have ever witnessed. Something about the reflection of the lightning flashes on the falling snow (I saw it in the early evening -- not quite dark, but close) combined with the noise of the thunder was fascinating to me.

It is a shame you had to cancel for the Adequate and Independent State Ground Doctrine -- fun stuff. Thank goodness for make-up classes.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

O.K. So your next streak begins tomorrow.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Does the school's cancellation mean that your cancellation didn't really break the streak?

University authority trumps professorial authority, right? Is there a federalism analogy that I'm missing?

anonlawstudent said...

Now that you've broken your streak, can we cancel tommorrow too? I wanna play outside.

Has anyone ever tried to pour snow? It doesn't work.

Legally Intoxicated (Retired) said...

Thanks for cancelling!

Ann Althouse said...

Charles: "Ann: Sorry to hear you are also now snowed in, but apparently weren't earlier."

Well, your hearing isn't very good then. I've been snowed in all day.

Ann Althouse said...

As to "never" cancelling class: I'd never done it -- in more than 20 years -- until today.

And the service that normally shovels my driveway has still not arrived. I'm afraid they won't come until tomorrow.

Ann Althouse said...

Ruth Anne: The official cancellation began with the 4:30 classes on, so technically mine was not covered. What I was trying to avoid was having everyone struggle to get in, find only a tiny group there, then going through the formality of a class for an hour and a half, all the time knowing you're going to have a harder time getting back home. Plus, my drive and my street are completely unplowed, and beyond that point it's a hill. I haven't left the house except to go out to sweep the snow off the low lying junk and to take a few pictures.