While working at the National Hurricane Center, I learned that the closing of schools related to tropical cyclones is a big, big deal. I commend the officials in Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties for not only closing schools this Monday and Tuesday due to possible impacts from Tropical Storm Fay, but also for making the announcement on Sunday afternoon to give parents time to make arrangements for their school children.
You don’t want to have school children in buses while tropical storm force winds are blowing. This is especially true when the buses travel over elevated bridges and overpasses. In the case of South Florida, the NHC forecast was good and the decision by local officials was clearly justified. But there will be times when Tropical Storm or Hurricane Warnings are posted, schools are closed, and the weather doesn’t get as bad as expected.
I like to make the analogy between a so-called “hurricane day” in Florida, and a “snow-day” up north. Sometimes there is a forecast for heavy snow, and schools and businesses are closed. And sometimes, it doesn’t snow as much as forecast. In this case the local officials who made the decision to close schools and the business owners who shut down are understandably not happy. A Canadian meteorologist, colleague and friend of mine, has occasionally been humbled by significantly over-forecasting snow in his area. He shared with me that most people in his location are used to an occasional imperfect snow forecast and have learned to accept and deal with the issue.
Likewise, there will sometimes be school and business closings due to tropical storms and hurricanes. And sometimes, the observed weather may not be as bad as forecast and the closings will appear unjustified. The track forecast, or intensity forecast, or size forecast for the tropical storm or hurricane may not be as accurate as we would like. (We have discussed uncertainty in tropical cyclone forecasts in recent blogs.) The penalty for not closing down, however, can be too great. We don’t want to put people at risk where there is a reasonable chance that the weather will be dangerous. No one wants to close down unnecessarily. There are obvious ramifications for closing including financial ones. But the world will not stop spinning if schools and business close down for a day or two when dangerous weather threatens.