Friday, January 9, 2015

Wind Chill, not Air Temperature

Updated Post (February 19, 2015)

I am thankful that Winter 2015 has been milder than Winter 2014; however, there is still potential for plenty of cold and snow in the next two months. I want to remind everyone that when I am looking at weather and forecasts, I pay much more attention to Wind Chill than I do to air temperature. Both the days in January were marked by a National Weather Service Wind Chill Warning. Today (February 19 2015) the National Weather Service issued a Wind Chill Advisory (which is not as severe).

I do take each of these decisions very seriously. This morning, I walked between Leal and Yankee Ridge to get a sense of the ambient temperature before I made my final decision to keep schools open. I do understand that every family has a different tolerance for cold, and I never want my decision to keep our schools open imply to parents that I don't value their opinion. You, as a parent, are the best judge of what is safe for your child.


Original Post (January 9, 2015)

Many people have asked why schools were closed on Thursday, January 8, but open on Friday, January 9. The main reason is the forecasted wind chill. On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a Wind Chill Warning until Noon, with predicted wind chills between -20ºF and -27ºF. On Friday, Wind Chill Warning had been reduced to an Advisory with predicted wind chills between -10ºF and -15ºF. Yes, these wind chills are still very cold, but the difference is in the research behind the wind chill charts.

I always try to stress that the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Charts changed dramatically in 2001. The wind chill charts used today are very different when I was a student in MN. I remember going to school in -30ºF wind chills in the early 1980s; however, by today’s formula, those same conditions would only rate as a -12ºF wind chill. There is a great article on this site:

As I stated, it is still very cold, but much less dangerous. Please dress warmly with hats, coats, and gloves.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Weather Closing - Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Due the extreme cold temperatures forecast for Wednesday, January 7, 2015, all USD116 schools are closed.  The following message was sent to families with the accompanying audio.

Many thanks to the 2014 Honors Chorus, Mr. Douse, and Mr. Summerville (on piano) for help recording the message.

Please stay warm and stay safe!



This is Don Owen, Superintendent for Urbana School District #116.  Due to the winter weather conditions, all Urbana Schools will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, January 7, 2015.  Please check local news stations for more information.
Thank you,

Soy Don Owen, Superintendente del Distrito Escolar de Urbana.  Debido a las condiciones del tiempo del invierno, todas las escuelas de Urbana están cerradas mañana (el miércoles)  Por favor, vea las noticias locales para más información.

Donald Owen

Urbana School District #116

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Winter Weather 2015

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how and when I decide to close school due to winter weather.  As we start a new year, and a new January, I wanted to repost and update the information.  Please remember that the best way to protect yourself and your children against the winter weather is to dress appropriately (see my public service videos from last year: and in Spanish:  

The News-Gazette recently published a story about communities preparing for winter weather:

Here is part of my post from last year:


Closing school is never an easy decision, mainly because it is not an exact science.  My primary consideration is the safety of students.  The majority of students in our district live within 1.5 miles from their school, and therefore do not receive transportation from the district.  In extreme temperatures, I watch young children walk to school without hats, gloves, and, sometimes, proper jackets.  Many students walk 10, 15, 20, and even 30 minutes or more. 

Closing a school due to snow or extreme cold is not something I take lightly.  I always prefer to keep students in school, however, if the weather is so extreme that a student is at risk of frost-bite or worse, we have to balance the desire to hold school with student safety.  When it is clear that weather might be an issue, we spend a great deal of time consulting experts, glued to apps and websites - the National Weather Service is my favorite:  We also talk to public works, grounds crews, transportation experts, and other superintendents.  The decision to close schools is not an exact science.  There is a lot of room for error, especially when there is pressure to make a decision early enough for families to make childcare arrangements. 

I have learned that there are a lot of misconceptions about frost-bite.  The National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart ( helps me explain the dangers of cold temperatures and wind chill to parents, students, and colleagues.  However, I always stress that this chart is not "the" answer for when to close school; it just provides one more piece of the puzzle.  

Either way, I am not sure any winter weather school closing decision is 100% obvious.  I know I will hear when people disagree, and I honestly do appreciate the dialogue, because it provides additional opportunities for education and reflection.  

As a Minnesotan, I also feel the need to advocate for outdoor winter activities.  I run, ski, sled, walk, and play outside in extreme temperatures.  During the recent “Polar Vortex” I spent several hours outside shoveling snow and walking to and from schools.  However, I was dressed appropriately:  multiple layers, all skin covered, and exposed areas (around eyes and nose) covered with a skin protector, like Dermatone.  Unfortunately, not all of our families have the means to dress for the Polar Vortex. Which means we have to wrestle with the decision to close schools to protect children from frostbite and hypothermia. 

Stay safe and warm.