The Geography of American Snow Days

Winter Storm School Closings

It is now the end of January and Winter 2014 seems to have a long way to go. For much of the country, this year has been record breaking in terms of winter storms and cold. We have been trapped by the "polar vortex" and have had numerous snow related travel headaches. Even Atlanta found itself paralyzed for nearly a full day by the rare onslaught of a winter storm. 

How do school aged children feel about all of this? Have they lost more days of school than on an average year? Let's take a look at how snow affects school cancellations across the country. The results are quite interesting!

I find this to be quite interesting, and there are some important things to point out. First and foremost, this map tends to reflect the frequency of winter storms. Areas that experience more winter weather appear in darker shades of blue and thus require more snow to cancel schools. These areas have the plows to deal with the weather.


Most of this region is a dark blue color. Here in New England, we get snow all the time and I find the map to be quite accurate. It often does take about a foot of snow or so for schools to be cancelled. One interesting exception that I want to point out is in Rhode Island. Notice the tiny state is shaded the color of 3" of snow. This is actually true. Partially due to budgetary issues and partially due to climate, Rhode Island schools close with much less snow than the rest of the Northeast.


This I find particularly interesting. For most of the South, any snow results in a school cancellation. This includes even the prediction of snow! This week we saw a few inches literally grind several southern cities to a halt. This may seem odd to Northerners, but the South simply does not have the infrastructure to handle any snow at all.


Similarly to the Northeast, this region requires between 1 and 2 feet of snow to cancel schools. Although surrounded by lighter colors, Chicago appears dark blue. This indicates that the city has the budget to be able to deal with much more snow than rural areas around the city. One other point about the Midwest is that during winter, it is often so cold that the cold, not the snow, is what ends up closing schools.


This region is largely governed by elevation. Close to the coast, there is little snowfall and almost any will result in school closings. But move inland a bit to the mountains and there suddenly is ample snow and it requires much more for school closings and delays.