Schools close for snow and cold. Do we need tornado days, too?

Marshall Shepherd is director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program and a professor in the department of geography. He also hosts the Weather Channel’s Sunday talk show “WX Geeks.”

In a piece for Forbes, Shepherd discusses the closing of schools when tornadoes are predicted, asking, “Are we in the era of the ‘Tornado Day’ for school systems? Many people, certainly kids, are aware of the ‘snow day.’ Snow days are often used in parts of the country not equipped to properly clear roads of ice and snow. In Georgia, I have seen school systems close because the weather was ‘too cold‘ for kids to stand at bus stops.”

Should schools close when severe storms and tornadoes are in the forecast? (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Should schools close when tornadoes are in the forecast? (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

It is an interesting article, which discusses whether students are safer in schools during tornadoes or at home. I tend to agree with Valerie Ritterbusch, president of WeatherCall Services, LLC, who says in the piece:

The policy of sending students home means you’re likely sending many of them home alone which may be a mobile home, especially in poor rural areas of the country. Once home, video games easily drone out an approaching storm…When faced with a choice of sending children home unsupervised or keeping them in a site built school structure where adults can oversee sheltering them in interior hallways, the plan we at WeatherCall would want our children’s districts to practice is keeping them at school until the threat has passed.

Shepherd reports recent school closings in Tallahassee in advance of severe weather and tornadoes led to complaints from parents. He looked at the inclement weather policy in Gwinnett, his own school district, and found it slanted toward snow.

So, he asks in his essay: “Do inclement weather plans of school systems need explicit language for early closures due to tornadic storms?”

What do you think?


Reader Comments 0


I feel of two minds here.  First, is it a good idea to have so many children (hundreds to thousands) crowded into ONE place when there are tornadoes on the ground?  And do parents want to abrogate their responsibilities to the teachers and school staff to keep them safe?

As to the point about kids being at home, possibly alone, playing video games--that happens quite often, not just during a likely tornado emergency.  Should the schools be responsible for ALL parenting decisions and their consequences?

I have been teaching when we have had three quite close encounters with tornadoes.  The school staff did their best to care for and comfort very frightened children while in a building not meant for safety in that kind of weather (especially lots of windows you can't get away from).  They needed their parents, not adults stretched thinly trying to provide for 600 other kids.

True story: One of our "on the ground" days was during CRCT several years ago.  One precious little boy, knowing that there was only SO MUCH TIME allowed to take the test, tried to take his into the hall so he could work on it!  Because it was a test interruption for all the kids in the county, we had to report it to the state so they could invalidate the scores if necessary.  "No one can leave the room during the test, or their test will be invalidated and they will NOT be allowed to continue!"

Teddy G
Teddy G

When schools close for cold, it's not because of kids standing outside.  It's because diesel fuel gels over at low temperatures.  In colder climates, buses are stored in heated garages overnight and the fuel is treated with additives to make this less of an issue.  In warmer climates, buses are stored outside and the fuel is not treated aggressively -- this saves cost, but it means that when it gets really cold, the buses won't start.  Biodiesels exacerbate the problem, although I'm not 100% sure what the mix ratios are for school buses around here.


@Teddy G Ours has been closed when the wind chill was near zero, regardless of the actual temperatures.


@ajc depends on if avg school is more solidly constructed than avg home. Definitely not in areas where a lot of kids live in mobile homes