St. Paul sets school closing threshold at -35 wind chill

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Already looking forward to the cold winter ahead of us, the St. Paul School District has revised its school closing policy in case of cold weather.

From now on, when wind chills are forecast to be 35 degrees below zero or colder on a school morning, classes will be canceled for that day, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The old threshold was -40.

With the change, St. Paul joins Minneapolis schools in using the -35 wind chill measure.

You might recall that last winter we saw some really cold days, and one of those days – Jan. 7 – many school districts decided to close because wind chill readings were in the -30 to -40 range. But St. Paul was one of the few who had classes that day, and leaders were criticized for that decision.

District spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey told the Pioneer Press the district decided to go with 35 below as the cutoff because it better aligns with the National Weather Service's threshold for issuing a wind chill warning.

When wind chills are at -35, exposed flesh can freeze within 10 minutes, according to the weather service.

What about snow days?

It can be a bit trickier for schools to call a "snow day" than a "cold day," because snowfall amounts can vary so much from place to place and can change more rapidly.

For example, here's Minneapolis schools' policy for calling a snow day:

MPS will cancel classes if road conditions are such that travel becomes too hazardous for buses and cars. This may happen if it snows 6 inches or more in 12 hours, or 8 inches or more in 24 hours. Every winter storm is different, so it is possible that classes will still be held even if snowfall reaches these limits. We may also close school if conditions approach blizzard criteria, even if snowfall amounts are lower.

And here's St. Paul's:

School will be canceled if heavy snow and/or icy conditions make it extremely hazardous or impossible for school buses to travel their routes and for employees to get to work safely.

School officials say they always put the safety of students and staff first when deciding if classes should be canceled due to cold or snow.

Those decisions are made on a local, district-by-district level, because of the variations in weather, road conditions and the distances school buses need to travel.

MPR News reported last winter that while a few districts like Minneapolis and St. Paul have objective criteria, most of them decide whether or not to close school on a case-by-case basis.

There have been just a few instances in recent years when Minnesota's governors took it upon themselves to cancel school for the entire state because of bitter cold temperatures.

Gov. Mark Dayton did so in January 2014, and Arne Carlson did so on three occasions in the late 1990s.

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