Monday, January 31, 2011

Hard decisions call for ignoring predictions?

The biggest issue my children worry about - daily - is whether or not school will be canceled due to inclement weather. Of course, you can guess which decision they are rooting for ... My son is not a fan of the Superintendent of schools because, in his estimation, the superintendent does not call enough snow days. Still, I was surprised when my son said that the superintendent ignores weather forecasts! Amazingly enough:

However, as superintendent of our school district, I will not call a snow day based on a weather forecast. I will call a snow day based on existing weather conditions such as significant snowfall or dangerous wind chills. I will call a snow day based on the city’s ability to make streets passable and our maintenance staff's ability to make our schools accessible and our parking lots clear.
[emphasis added]. So - the National Weather Service digital forecast for the occurrence of precipitation was 82% accurate for Lincoln in the last month. (Aside - I'm not sure how is calculating that number, but it seems to be a good number to me.) Sure, it shouldn't be the only factor involved in making a decision to close schools, but surely it is a useful source of information to make the decision farther ahead. As a parent I appreciate knowing as early as possible that school will be canceled so that I can make alternate arrangements. I can't see how a decision can be made the night before (as it was earlier this month) based on existing weather conditions. Has to be existing weather conditions PLUS A PREDICTION, and if the Superintendent isn't looking at the forecast for the next day, then I guess he's doing it in his head. Maybe he's in the wrong job if he can do a better prediction than the National Weather Service.
I think this is just more evidence that society at large a) doesn't understand the variability of nature, and b) devalues science that only makes probabilistic predictions. Conservation biology is stuffed.

UPDATE: They just called a snow day at 9:30 pm. Someone is using some kind of prediction.

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