The geography of American snow days

‘How Much Snow It Typically Takes to Cancel School in the U.S.’

A Reddit user, atrubetskoy, recently created a map showing just how much snow it takes various states and cities around the United States to cancel school. I am bringing this to your attention for two reasons: one, I love maps like the Cookie Monster loves cookies!

And two, I think just how much this varies from state to state is actually amazing. This is so amazing in fact that Eleanor Barkhorn at the Atlantic published a piece about it.

Using “data was taken from hundreds of various points from user responses…interpolated using NOAA’s average annual snowfall days map,” Trubetskoy made a map showing how much snow it typically takes to close schools in the U.S. and Canada. Notice that for much of the southern U.S., all it takes is “any snow” to shut schools down. For the Upper Midwest and Canada, two feet of snow are required for a closure.

When people ask how the climate in Germany compares to the climate of Oregon, people seem surprised to hear that the two are very similar. It rains a lot, but is generally a more mild climate. I happen to live in a coveted (for some) pocket of warmth in Germany. It is so warm in fact that the region is famous for its white wines, some of which date back to Roman times. The Willamette Valley in Portland is generally the pocket of warmth when all winter hell is happening around the rest of the state. In Germany, I’ve heard many a friend complain that while the snow is coming down everywhere else across the country, our region gets a little rain. Of course, that isn’t always the case, we do happen to see a few snowflakes fall, but not generally much.

In Portland, traditionally, it doesn’t snow much in winter. So, when it does happen to snow, people freak out. I’ll admit, because I grew up in this somewhat mild environment, albeit that does rain and freeze, I cannot drive in the snow. But you know what, I don’t even try to drive in the snow these days because the people that can drive in the snow only get mad at people like me. Plus I know that I don’t want to be lumped in with the idiots who get out on the roads and scare everyone who happens to be outside.

In other parts of the country, people laugh at people like me. They are much heartier souls. Their schools don’t close when a few centimeters of snow falls. Their schools likely don’t close.

I am sharing this for your pleasure, because I am sure there are whole nations who deal with snow so regularly, that it ain’t no thang. I imagine they are like the upper Midwest states, like Minnesota and the Dakotas, “A meter or two isn’t much.” Then there are other places, say in the Mediterranean for example, who would probably act like Florida, Georgia and the rest of the South, if it happened to snow there. Why, because it doesn’t traditionally snow in those places, or at least not that much.

I don’t mean  any disrespect by naming these countries and states, so I hope none is taken. My mind immediately likes to compare though. As Barkhorn pointed out in her piece, the map says less about the people and more about the infrastructure of the state or county. In other words, the people up north are better prepared for snow and blizzard like conditions while the people further south are not, because it is much more rare.

As Trubetskoy clarified to Barkhorn:

  1. In much of the Midwest and Great Plains, school closing often depends more on wind chill and temperature than on snow accumulation (“cold days”). Thus, this map may be misleading in those areas.
  2. Many jurisdictions in California and other western states have significantly varied snowfall, depending on elevation. This makes it difficult to find an “average” number, or often makes it misleading.
  3. Urban areas like Chicago and New York have more resources to clear snow and often need more to cause closings.
  4. Clarification: The lightest green says “any snow” but also includes merely the prediction of snow.
  5. Clarification II: This is snow accumulation over 24 hours/overnight.
  6. Hawaii does get snow! Just… not where people live.

 

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