February 5, 2007

Madison schools canceled for cold.

All the Madison area schools are canceled today for cold, including the schools in Madison itself. Madison schools are always the last to close. I know that from my many years of checking for school closings when my sons were young. I'd watch a long list of cities and towns scroll slowly across the TV screen, and even when the list was long, Madison would still be missing. Madison almost never shuts down for snow, and the main reason is that we expect it and, because we have enough snow and enough money to make it worth preparing, we prepare. But there is nothing to be done about cold. No trucks can plow it out of our path, and dealing with it must be left to individuals and families. It's up to them to figure out how to prepare for the winter, and if they are to send their children to school on the coldest days, they've got to figure out what kind of clothing to buy and spend the money for it.

Right now, the temperature in downtown Madison is minus 15°, with wind chill calculated at minus 31°. If weather like this were quite common, the school authorities might assume that parents had gotten their act together and committed the family funds to buying proper outerwear for their kids. But it really isn't rational for them to spend this kind of money on their kids -- who, of course, constantly grow out of things. Like a southern city that shuts down whenever it snows, parents are right to have no plan for clothing their children to go out on really cold days like today.

Even if you assumed that all parents did what informed, rational parents should do, the school district would need to conclude that attendance will be so low that the schools should close. In real life, some parents would decide to send their kids out in the warmest clothes they had, and children could get hurt. It's best not to create the conditions for that to happen. Keep the kids home.

But how about the University? We never close! I canceled class once in over 20 years, because it was in the middle of a big storm, but even then, the University didn't close. We're all adults here, and you're expected to dress yourself properly. Certainly, by the time you're old and smart enough to go to law school, you should know what to do. Your mom and dad aren't dressing you anymore. You're responsible for yourself. The institution isn't going to protect you from your mistakes. If we were, I'd be going up to every other kid I see on campus on bitterly cold days and telling him or her to put on a hat.

Here's a picture Nina took on campus on Saturday. See the woman on the left? She represents a theory of mine:



There is never a day in Madison when more than half the students walking outside on campus are wearing hats. But folks, if you're reading this, mom wants you to wear a hat.

The young woman on the right also has a good idea with the scarf over the face. If it's less than 4 below, you need a scarf over your nose or you can feel the air icing up inside your nasal passage. Take that as a sign that you need a scarf. And look at how both women are completely unprotected from the waist down. The hatless woman appears to be wearing canvas sneakers. You really do need a long, down coat and some kind of warm shoes.

But you are adults, so look out for yourselves.

And lest anyone think that I've written this post to cast doubt on theories about global warming, let me say that if you've read this post with understanding and without the usual emotional static, you should see that the implication is that people are less prepared for cold when they encounter less of it. The new -- I think it's new -- phenomenon of closing for cold is -- if anything -- a sign that we've been having warmer winters.

54 comments:

Scott in WI said...

Madison schools closed for cold back in February of '96 -- the high that Friday was -14.

This kind of weather is why I live in Madison. So crisp and exhilirating. And it really makes you appreaciate the thaw!

Matt Brown said...

We're on 2 hour delays here in Indianapolis (Go Colts!). It's only -3F.

Al Maviva said...

Madison almost never shuts down for snow, and the main reason is that we expect it

That, and federal and state aid to schools is usually calculated based on class days open. School districts hate to burn off snow days because it reduces the amount of incoming filthy lucre.

MadisonMan said...

My daughter tells me that there are 3 built-in cancellations in the Madison schools calendar. She was a very gleeful 8th-grader this morning, and is hoping for two more snow/cold days. Beyond that, they have to extend the school year.

al said...

The girl on the left will be my daughter some day. It was a -5 yesterday when we headed off to church and she had on her regular jacket. No hat, no scarf. Had to force her to put on a warm coat, hat, and scarf.

Mike said...

I have a theory of my own. California girls. At least the one on the left. You can almost see the comment bubble above her head: {WTF?}

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Puh-leeze. It's a ruse. The Monday after the Super Bowl is the most-used sick day of the year!

I think the hatlessness is because of the dreaded 'hat hair.'

Wade_Garrett said...

I don't want to sound whiny, but I think it is somewhat obnoxious for the University to design its campus without any room for student parking, and then expect students to walk 20 or 30 minutes each way to class in -28 windchill. Yes, I realize that we're all adults, but faculty can park right across the street from the building, whereas students can only take the inconsistent-and-perpetually-delayed buses or walk.

MadisonMan said...

Wade, I walked in to work this morning -- I was 30 seconds late to the bus stop. So, 20 minutes out walking.

Get some long underwear and polar fleece and stop whining. You think you can call in to your boss when it's -15 and say you can't come into work because you're cold?

Grow up.

David said...

I thought you said if one is smart enough to go to law school then the inferrence would be that they were also smart enough to dress warm?

In the desert the situation is reveresed. Walking around when the temp is around 115 without water is akin to walking around in sub-zero weather without a hat.

I forgot, it is a dry heat!

Ann Althouse said...

Wade: You're supposed to take the bus! And isn't the bus free for students.

Ruth Anne: Yeah, hat hair is the main thing. But people also underdress below the hat area. When it gets back up to maybe 20, there will be guys without jackets, and if it's 40, they will be in T-shirts if not shorts and sandals. There's a certain toughness, especially among the guys.

Mike said...

"I don't want to sound whiny, but ..."

Guess what, Wade? You do.

I don't know what campus you're talking about with "faculty can park right across the street from the building" but it ain't my beloved UW-Madison.

Wade_Garrett said...

I grew up in Buffalo, New York, so I'm accustomed to cold winters. We don't cancel school in Buffalo unless at least eight inches fell since the previous nightfall. But like Ann said, you can't blow cold out of the way, and you're still expecting people to walk to school in dangerous temperatures. Every other university of this size in a similar climate (for instance, Minnesota or some of the ones in Canada) have underground tunnels or some other such nod to the cold climate. But not here!

The faculty can park in Grainger or some such lot. At least I know many members of the faculty who do.

Yes, apparently, we are supposed to take the bus. I love public transport; I used to live in New York City and took the subway every day. But there, the subway actually shows up more than twice an hour, and you get to wait for it underground. Maybe I'm just a big fat pussy. Or maybe the University should cancel school like, you know, every other school in the state of Wisconsin.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, Mike's right. Faculty parking is usually pretty far from the workplace. Before I had some seniority, I'd get parking assignments 5 blocks from the law school. I'm now as close as I can get, but I still have two walk 2 blocks. And I pay $1000 a year for that. I should add that for my first 15 years here, I walked to work, even when it was 5 below, and that was over a mile.

bill said...

NOAA wind chill chart

-15 and -30 wind chill is in the danger zone. Frostbite exposure is under 30 minutes and close to 10. I'm assuming if there was no wind, school would be open. I went to high school in Minnesota and remember school closing one day for a blizzard. A bunch of still drove to school to play snow football (25 years later I can now admit this was a bad idea). First job was as a warming house attendant and we had permission to close the rinks if the temperature reached 20 below--still had to yell at a handful of rinkrats to go home. Dressing for cold weather is one thing, but most people forget to account for the wind.

Now living in the southeast where it was a humid 28 this morning. I bought a scooter last fall for commuting and the coldest I've ridden was last week's 18F. My top speed is usually around 50-55mph, which translated to at least -6F wind chill. That's pushing the limits of my current gear. I'll need to get warmer gloves and head gear for next winter.

Off-topic, concerning the scooter: sometimes correlation is causation. My scooter gets 70mpg. When I started riding last August, gas was around $3.20 a gallon. Gas prices immediately started dropping and were nearing $2/gal by December. For various reasons I did not ride much during December and prices went up to $2.30. I rode almost every day in January and my last tank was $1.89. They've gone up a bit, but still under $2. Clearly, I am responsible for the cheap gas.

So, drive what you want, I'll keep doing my part to keep it affordable.

Wade_Garrett said...

Some of the faculty does have to park that far away, just none of the ones who make decisions about whether or not the school will have class! That's an important distinction.

My main complaint isn't about the cold, per se, but rather the University's failure to plan for it. One major reason that SUNY-Buffalo (near where I grew up) has so much parking is that it expects students to drive or carpool in the winter, instead of walking or waiting for the Buffalo city buses, which are just as bad as Madison's. It, as well as the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan among others, have ways to allow students to go from building to building without going outdoors.

To get back to Ann's original point about planning and weather expectations, the University can expect to have a week or so of this weather every year, and yet it doesn't plan for it, other than to say "take the bus!" To me that's just bad management.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that you can adjust to almost anything. I have friends in Fairbanks, and if they shut down the schools every time it dropped below a balmy 15 below or so, the kids would probably spend most of each summer making it up. Luckily for them though, it is a still cold (somewhat akin to a dry heat) - w/o wind, 15 below means 15 below, and their streatches of 30 below are really just 30 below.

One of the rules of thumb that stuck in my mind was that vinyl car seats were not a good idea, since they would quickly split when sat upon in that sort of cold. Leather is somewhat better, but fabric is best of all.

Mike said...

I walked to work too this morning, Wade. It's 1 mile. UW Parking is too expensive for me.

Like MadisonMan said, get some long underwear and stop whining.

Oh, and wear a hat.

rightwingprof said...

You know it's cold when your mustache freezes and thaws every time you breathe (-:

Ruth Anne Adams said...

There's a certain toughness, especially among the guys.

What are the odds you'll see your pet peeve today--'men' in shorts?

BrianOfAtlanta said...

When I was going to school in Moose, Wyoming the school buses from Jackson wouldn't run if it ever got to -60 without a wind chill. It never got that cold, though I remember waiting for the bus in -40 a couple times.

Here in GA, they close schools for all sorts of reasons, except here in Gwinnett county. One day, the TV was going down the list of closings when the announcer stopped and said "This is taking too long. All school systems are closed except for Gwinnett county." My 9th grade daughter nearly hit the roof.

Bruce Hayden said...

The young women may not be totally unprotected below the waist. I routinely wear long underwear under jeans, and know some girls that do also (mostly likely under duress, but still..)

If you look really carefully, the one on our left does look like she has a scarf or something around the bottom of her face - it is just stuck under her coat. You can see a little light beige on her chin, with matching strands appearing at the bottom of her coat. The scarf appears to match the mittens (not surprising for a female of that age). And her jacket does appear to be down - just the waist length stylish cut that we see around here a lot, and not the longer one that some seem to be suggesting. Indeed, the female on our right is the one most likely w/o a down coat - that appears to be a ski jacket, which more likely means a fleece lining. That could be down underneath, but not likely given her hips and thighs.

But the shoes of the one on the left do appear to be canvas type sneakers. And that is not smart, as is her failure to wear a hat (thought I think that her scarf may cover her ears).

rsb said...

brings back not so fond memories of my days delivering the Wisconsin State Journal.

Dale B said...

It was -13 here in Minneapolis when I got up this morning and at 9 AM it hit the low pf -18. It hasn't been this cold here in three or four years, but this sort of temperature is not at all unusual for late Jan or early Feb.

Not dressing properly is not limited to the young. I see a lot of adults, who should know better, with just a light jacket. Often no gloves or hat. Since they're usually driving and then walking a short distance to work, this isn't a problem. If their car breaks down and they have to walk, they're screwed.

It's possible to be outside all day in these, and much colder temperatures. but you have to have proper clothing. Most people don't have such clothing.

MadisonMan said...

the University can expect to have a week or so of this weather every year, and yet it doesn't plan for it, other than to say "take the bus!" To me that's just bad management.

This shows much ignorance of Madison climatology. Only five years of the last twenty have had daytime highs below zero. Such cold as is being experienced now is rare.

Why should the University -- other than preparing its physical plant to combat the cold -- coddle adults? Adults -- and that includes students -- are responsible for their own comfort.

Bruce Hayden said...

Finally, as to buses. Last week I tried to ride Denver's RTD system across town to pick up my car from being repaired. The first bus was supposed to run every half hour. I got to the bus stop about five minutes early, and saw a bus disappearing into the blowing snow (not sure if that was mine or not). And then I waited the next hour for my bus to show, to no avail, before calling my father and getting a ride from him. I hate to admit it, but I wimped out.

I was wearing a pile hat, vest, and gloves, and two pair of long underwear under my jeans. Over everything was the type of long heavy down coat that Ann seems to be suggesting. Add insulated socks in waterproof boots.

If I had had my gear from here in Dillon, I might have made it. I could have added pile pants under snow pants, my insulated boots, bacalava, neck gaiter, face mask, and goggles. Oh, and better gloves and hat.

There was one guy without a hat who was waiting for the same bus, but left after less than a half an hour, since he appeared more unprepared than those two young women.

Part of my point is that in places where that cold of weather, etc. are not routine (like here in Dillon, CO, or worse, in Fairbanks), the public transportation system often fails. They are often based on interconnecting routes that fail to interconnect when buses get delayed. I wondered how they kept to a schedule in a blizzard, and discovered the answer - they don't come close.

Not surprisingly, here in Dillon, the buses run pretty much on schedule even in 15 below and windchill at 30 below. But that is because they routinely operate at zero or so for a week or so at a time, and 30-40 mph winds are not uncommon.

YAMB said...

Re men in shorts: when I lived in Minneapolis in the 80s, a guy made the news because he went for his morning run in weather like this . . . and ending up losing all the skin on his legs. What an idjit.

Another reason metropolitan school districts (Madison, Milwaukee) hate to close is they fear that young kids will be left home unsupervised, because their parents can not miss work. Also, some kids will not get any decent meals if they miss the school-provided breakfast and hot lunch.

Bruce Hayden said...

Dale B

The Twin Cities are another place it seems where cold weather is anticipated and usually accounted for. I spent the month of January there awhile back for work, and was surprised at a lot of accomodations made there for the cold - like the walkways between buildings downtown. It was below zero for the entire month. Yet no one seemed to mind. The one thing that did seem weird though was that all of the buildings seemed to be overheated. Zero outside and well above 70 inside.

Maxine Weiss said...

The problem is --what if there's no cloak? What do you do with all your coats? It looks pretty dumb carrying around a coat all day.

I do love the way some people toss their camel's hair coats across a sofa, or chair.

A little bit more dramatic than hanging it on a cloak.

Are there any tradional cloak rooms anymore?

Years ago I saw a picture of a floor length mink hanging on a cloak, with all the other non-distinct coats.

I'll try to find that picture and put it up.

Nobody trudging around in fur, at the University, huh?

Peace, Maxine

Paddy O. said...

Mike is right about the likely California thing too. When I went to college in Chicago I thought I was fine. I had been in snow. Had a couple of warm coats.

I did not have any understanding whatsoever of bitter cold. It defies understanding except from experience.

The nasal passage thing is one thing. Without ear coverings, though, its coming back inside things get nasty. Burning! Ah! I remember walking to class in -50 wind chill and not being able to talk for a few minutes after I got into class because my jaw was too numb.

Craziness.

Alright, I'm off to fine my suntan lotion. Got a bit of a burn yesterday sitting outside in the California sun (of course I came back here!).

Anthony said...

I remember one fine morning I had to walk from my Gilman St. house to a final exam way -- at 7:45! -- on the other side of campus and it was like -10. I made sure to leave early so my hands would warm up enough to write by the time the exam started.

We oldsters tend to forget the sort of metabolism young'uns have. Back home in Wisconsin I used to wear a t-shirt all winter and my "winter coat" was a thin, lined nylon "Wisconsin" jacket over a gray hooded sweatshirt. Nowadays, when a (Washington) football game is in the 40s I sit in the stands shivering with about 6 layers on; I have no idea how I watched Badger games when it was like 20 and snowing.

PD said...

Whoa, that is cold - and I can't remember once that school was closed for cold where I was brought up in the Midwest. When I went to college at NIU, though, they made us walk to class half a mile and only ordered buses when it was 10 below or more. Nine below? Balmy!

Earth Girl said...

I caught the best man in the world (for me) because of the dreaded hat hair. Just after we met, he asked if I wanted to go for a walk in the snow in the full moonlight and my response was "Just a moment, let me grab a hat and scarf." Later, he told me that was the moment he knew I was someone special. At a certain age, you look for common sense in a mate and not perfect hair.

paul a'barge said...

All the Madison area schools are canceled today for cold.

Those of you who continue to believe in human-driven global warming need to change your last names to "Cline".

Mike said...

"What do you do with all your coats? It looks pretty dumb carrying around a coat all day."

Let me guess, Maxine. California?

Maxine Weiss said...

"The Instituion isn't going to protect you from your mistakes"--Althouse

And yet, for the money they charge, maybe they should.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

mike: What you do with a Russian sable, or mink? Would you just casually hang it on a cloak and go about your business?

I doubt they have a monitor that guards the cloak room.

Camel's hair is very expensive too.

I one time had someone rob me for my coat. Kind of an insult that's all they wanted.

Peace, Maxine

Mike said...

Maxine - I had a friend who left his suitcase on the NY subway. He got it back from the lost and found, and all his clothes were still in it! We never let him live that down.

figleaf said...

"...you should see that the implication is that people are less prepared for cold when they encounter less of it. The new -- I think it's new -- phenomenon of closing for cold is -- if anything -- a sign that we've been having warmer winters."

That's a genuinely brilliant contrarian insight, Ann.

You mention your own children in this post and it reminded me that my children's pediatrician said parents often won't consciously notice patterns of behavior in their babies until they start to change. It hadn't occurred to me that the same observation gap would apply to large-scale patterns as well, but it makes total sense.

figleaf

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"And isn't the bus free for students[?]"

Much like blogger, then. It's a pain in the ass when free stuff that we rely on doesn't work right, hmm? ;)

nina said...

We do have lockers for students -- they leave valuables there (including the mink coats that they do not have).

I walked the 1.5 mile to work. I would have been fine if I had goggles. My eyes still feel cold.

I saw a handful waiting for a delayed bus and thought three things:1. Asian students here are not prepared for this judging by their thin jackets and 2. it should would be nice if there was a shelter at the bus stop against the fierce wind and 3.I prefer walking to waiting.

vbspurs said...

See the woman on the left? [...]

The young woman on the right also has a good idea with the scarf over the face.


Okay, forgive me guys, but it's obvious to me why these two gals had opposing reactions to the cold.

The girl on the left is skinny, more-or-less good-looking, and dresses with a decent sense of fashion.

Look at those hot pink Converse All-Stars she's wearing -- Keira Knightley made them so chic again, that even I bought a pair.

But her chum next to her...she's kinda chubby. NTTAWWT, but the first woman wants to show off the goods, even in bitter cold, whereas the second girl probably just wants to stay warm.

Just sayin'.

Cheers,
Victoria

Dave said...

Three comments:
1) I live in New York City, and it is always amusing to me to see fashion victims inappropriately clothed, lest their $600 haircuts get messed up from hats, or their makeup from scarves.
2) It seems a badge of honor among certain people to shiver in the cold as opposed to bundling up.
3) When I was in boarding school in Maine there were days when the windchill would get to 80 below. No one there cared how their hair or makeup looked.

Of course when it's 95 degrees out and said fashion victims are teetering on their eight inch stillettoes wearing sundresses, I ain't complaining!

John said...

The one thing that did seem weird though was that all of the buildings seemed to be overheated. Zero outside and well above 70 inside.

Economist David Friedman did a study about this. Turns out that people in cold climates tend to heat their homes to a higher temperature in the winter than people in warm climates.

It's actually a perfectly reasonable consequence of a few logical assumptions. Most simply, it's that people in cold climates tend to have more cost-effective furnaces, so that the additional cost to move from, say, 65 to 70 degrees is lower in cold climates than in warmer ones.

Mike said...

"Okay, forgive me guys, but it's obvious to me why these two gals had opposing reactions to the cold."

It's obvious to us too, Victoria.

Mike said...

Economist David Friedman has never been to my house.

When I go up to Minneapolis, I find the skyway (or whatever it's called) temperature to be insufferable. I usually walk outside. (paging wade, paging wade)

MadisonMan said...

The new -- I think it's new -- phenomenon of closing for cold is -- if anything -- a sign that we've been having warmer winters.

Or that children are being coddled more.

If you look at the number of days with highs below zero per decade in Madison since 1900: 11, 21, 11, 16, 7, 2, 11, 10, 13, 8, 2 (so far this decade), I don't think you can conclude much, other than some significant interdecadal variability. The number of days per decade with lows below -13 (-25 C): 29, 39, 23, 24, 15, 27, 52, 70, 44, 25, 6 (so far).

This was probably more than you wanted to know.

vbspurs said...

It's obvious to us too, Victoria.

Whew, Mike, I'm glad I'm not the only judgemental woman on Althouse.

Erm... ;)

Cheers,
Victoria

Bob_Minn said...

My experience growing up in Milwaukee: Mondays were the days most likely to be closed for cold. Back then (and I'm assuming even now), they could not get the schools warmed up enough when it's too far below zero. The heat is turned down over the weekends to conserve energy, mid-50s or some such place.

So why not turn up the heat earlier on Sunday when it's so cold? What, did you say work on a Sunday? Did I mention Milwaukee was a very strong union town? Also, the older schools (mine was built in 1929) would have burst pipes sometimes.

The Minneapolis suburb I live in was -16 this morning...and the skyways downtown, connecting all of the high-rise buildings at the second level, were packed at lunchtime. Thank God for extreme cold: it brings Minnesotans together and provides 90% of our small talk.

BTW Ann, you gave me flashbacks of Law and Econ from my law school days.

OddD said...

It's supposed to hit 89 here today. The A/C is on in the buildings I'm visiting.

That's why I spend my winters in L.A.

Harry Eagar said...

We had a record low temperature of 54 on Maui.

Where is global warming when you need it?

But I feel your pain.

thatdamnhawaiin said...

"the weather service adjusted its wind-chill index in 2001 to more accurately reflect the effect of cold on exposed skin. Under the old chart, a temperature of minus 10 and winds of 20 mph produced a wind-chill factor of minus 53. Under the new chart, the wind- chill factor for those conditions is listed as 35 below zero - the point that would trigger a weather-service warning."

therfore all the time you people talked of walking in 35 degree below weather in the past it really was barely half as cold as it is now. In fact 35 blow is "defined as when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes."

So please take this changed aspect into account when you older people talk about us youngin's not being tough enough. It seems cancelling at -35 degrees is smarter than cancelling for snow storms. No matter how you dress yourself that is still "life threatening". I think if a company knew you walked a mile and half to work, it would be ok with you not coming to work that day. The reason most business don't shut down are two fold jobs that aren't high enough paying to afford to cars often are staffed by the people who need the jobs the most and are therefore willing to suffer pretty much anything to keep those jobs. And for the higher paying jobs, most of the employee's have cars. However with law school I would say the vast majority don't have cars and the law school shouldn't risk lives (which they are according to the NWS by definition) just to have class.

Mellow-Drama said...

I wish the schools wouldn't close when it gets this cold, because some of the less-fortunate kids probably don't have a lot of heat at home. They're better off waiting for the bus in the cold for a few minutes and getting a warm day and a nice hot meal at lunchtime than shivering at home all day with nothing to eat. That's a real problem in my city, so they only close the schools when it is just too dangerous to risk it.

Mike said...

"therfore all the time you people talked of walking in 35 degree below weather in the past it really was barely half as cold as it is now."

Windchill is for posers. Only Southerners (and the WeatherChannel) uses the windchill temperature. When we say -15, it was -15 (or did they change the Fahrenheit scale, too?).