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The first storm and the city without a snow day

By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor After a very odd November weather-wise, the first real snow of the season came as some sort of reassurance that winter still exists amid the global climate change. Although the calendar will tell us we are still in autumn, if it's December and there are six inches or so on the ground, we can safely say from an emotional point of view that we are in winter. Ideally, that first snowstorm is one that delivers a fluffy layer of the white stuff that is fairly easy to removed by machine or shovel. It obligingly covers up the brown remains of fall and gives everything a new coat of paint. Of course, this storm gave us a true taste of the season with heavy snow that turned to three inches of ponderous slush within a few hours. Such is life in New England where long-time residents fall into one of two camps: those who embrace winter and its cold pleasures and those who pray for the return of warmth and greenery. I'm willing to admit I fall in the latter category, although I do look forward to that nice snowstorm myself. It cleanses the seasonal palette. Growing up in Granby on a small farm during my high school and college years, a snowstorm meant something else: the promise of a day off. Of course, snow didn't alter the home routine all that much. Whatever animals we had at the time it varied with my dad's vision of what we were doing still needed tending. Feeding them, cleaning up after them and breaking the ice in their water trough all took on additional weight on those dark mornings with freezing temperatures. My mother would have Bob Steele on the radio the legendary Connecticut broadcaster unless there was a storm. Then it was a local station, probably WHYN. That meant I got to listen to something other than "old people's music." And then the ritual would begin of holding one's breath as the announcers read down through the list of cancellations and postponements. Since these lists were almost always in alphabetical order only the most sadistic Nazi would have jumbled them up, causing kids additional suspense we knew our fate pretty early on. Students in Springfield agonized as well as our peers in West Springfield and Westfield. Of course, if we didn't get a day off, we were in a foul mood, especially if kids in neighboring towns were now enjoying that sweetest of fruits: a random day off. We seldom considered that our parents had to make it into their work or that a snow day threw a monkey wrench into childcare plans or that elderly people might not get that delivery from Meals on Wheels. And if we didn't get a day off we knew whom to blame: the superintendent. As a kid I wondered just how this person made that decision when did he or she do it and what were the criteria? At that time, much youthful swearing done under one's breath, directed at the superintendent, as one waited at the bus stop. I doubt that has changed only today, I'm sure the words would be more colorful. I felt sympathy this week for Springfield's superintendent, Dr. Alan Ingram, who made what was seen as the wrong snow day decision. Ingram reportedly relied on local weather forecasts to make his decision his only course of action and got his head handed to him from angry parents. Ingram strikes me as an intelligent, caring guy unlike a previous superintendent who allegedly determined snow days on whether or not his dachshund was having a hard time walking through an accumulation. In a town like Granby, literally a handful of students walked to the town's three schools. In Springfield, with a plan to emphasize neighborhood schools and a need to bus students seen as almost a last resort, many, many students walk to school. Making sure students can actually get to their school in a safe manner is paramount and since city ordinances state sidewalks need to be cleared within 24 hours of a storm, that safety could be an issue. Considering that side streets such as mine didn't see a plow until late afternoon I did have someone on a snowmobile go whizzing down the street, though kids couldn't even walk in the street safely. So even with super 3-D Doppler real time radar, an army of volunteer weather watchers, computer models and remote television cameras placed up and down the Valley, our television colleagues making the predictions can still miss it every now and then. Therefore, we should have compassion for the area school superintendents, as the information they're getting is the same as we are getting. This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to news@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St.,East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.
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