As a winter storm approaches, students, teachers, and parents are fast asleep. The first thing many students will do when they awake is grab their phones and check the DCPS Instagram and Twitter (which they have only recently followed) to see if schools are closed or delayed. If closed, students will rejoice and roll back over, but if open, students will hop on their various social media accounts to plead their case to DCPS officials that it is just too dangerous to go to school.
A case that will go unheard, because as students, teachers, and parents slept, a group of dozens of District officials will already have made the decision. The final call comes early in the morning, often between 4 and 5 a.m., but the prep work for a snow day begins days in advance. The following account is based on an imaginary snow event and on interviews with the District of Columbia Department of Public Works and Public Schools.
72 hours out:
If District officials are fortunate enough to know that there is going to be an inclement weather event they begin by analyzing the forecast. Their goal is to determine, as accurately as possible, what the weather conditions are going to look like the day of the event including what the temperature will be and what type of precipitation will fall. They also begin to notify their personnel that a storm is en route.
48-24 hours out:
The District of Columbia is unique in its response to snow, in that it requires cooperation with multiple partners. According to the Director of DPW, Christopher Shorter, DC participates in the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordinating (MATOC) calls. These are large conference calls that include officials from the DMV, surrounding counties, and the federal government, and are used to increase communication between the various jurisdictions.
24 hours out:
In addition to engaging in MATOC Calls, DC officials also participate in the Council of Government call. These calls are much larger, and involve almost everyone who will have some responsibility during the event, upwards of a hundred of people. In addition to following traditional weather services on television and online, District officials are updated by the National Weather Service and use this federal agency to determine the level of response.
12 hours to impact:
According to Shorter, a full deployment is between 200-225 heavy duty and light plows. 12 hours out from the storm’s expected arrival, the Department ensures that operators are on break which ensures that when the storm hits, they will be able to work for a full 12 hour shift.
Between 3 and 4 a.m. the Council of Government has a final call to discuss how the region is responding, DC officials receive a final update from the National Weather Service, they talk with the DC Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Public Works, DCPS, and the City Administrator. A recommendation is made to the Mayor, and the Mayor makes a decision, usually between 5 and 5:30 a.m., according to Shorter. They then push that information out to the press and, of course, post on their social media accounts. So, when students turn on their phones that morning, they will see the final result of hours (if not days) of planning, hard work, and coordination. •