Who Decides It’s a Snow Day?

By Geoffrey Bartlett, Director of Emergency Management, February 11, 2014

Yesterday a fellow Tufts employee remarked to me about last week’s snow closing saying, “the email came so early I thought it was a hoax!” Whenever possible we try to make a weather status decision the day before, but that’s not always possible. I thought I’d share a little about how the university makes the decision on campus status for winter storms and other major weather events as we prepare for another winter storm forecast for later this week.

The Forecast

Beginning a few days before a storm staff in Tufts’ Office of Emergency Management monitor updates from the National Weather Service (NWS). While media outlets often have their own meteorologists, the NWS mission of providing weather information “for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy”1 makes them our preferred source for impartial decision support.

The local NWS office in Taunton, Mass. send emails to emergency managers in their forecast area, and will hold conference calls before major storms. They’re also very transparent about the forecast, sharing the same information directly with the public through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

When the forecast is confident the university will make an earlier decision, as was the case last week when Tufts announced a closure for Wednesday, February 5th on Tuesday afternoon.

Early Morning Decision

When the forecast isn’t certain, or the anticipated impacts aren’t as significant, we make an early morning decision based on observed conditions. Such was the case on January 22nd, when other institutions announced decisions the night before, but in the morning we found much less snow than forecast and decided on a normal day of operations.

The process starts with a conference call, gathering observed conditions from Tufts Police and Facilities Services on all three campuses. The person acting as Emergency Manager also weighs in with the latest weather information, and a survey of actions by civil authorities (such as school closings, parking bans, or highway travel advisories). A summary of the situation is then provided to the executive vice president, who makes the decision for each campus.

What’s Closed When We’re “Closed”?

The Tufts campuses are as complex as a city, and are never really completely “closed”. Even when the campus is closed due to weather, some intrepid employees are still here. Police officers still patrol the campuses, Facilities Services and our custodial contractor, DTZ, work hard to clear snow or debris from the campuses, Dining Services keeps resident students nourished on the Medford/Somerville campus, researchers tend to experiments, and veterinary clinicians tend to animals. Details for staff are on pages 27-28 of the Employee Handbook.

Sharing the Decision

If you’re wondering whether a campus is open or closed, you have a variety of ways to find out:

  • Email from CampusClosings@tufts.edu
  • Posting on www.tufts.edu and announcements.tufts.edu
  • Call 617-627-INFO (4636) for all campuses, or 508-839-6124 for more details for the Grafton campus
  • Television scroller on 4 WBZ, 5 WCVB, and 7 WHDH, and (channels vary) NECN, WLVI, and WBZ-Radio 1030 AM.
  • Tufts University Facebook and Twitter.

Not all of the intricacies of the university are captured in the campus-wide email messages that go out. Several of the university’s eleven schools and one center share details about classes and events on their own weather information web pages:

Still have questions? Contact us.

References

1. National Weather Service. (2011-02-23) “Mission Statement – NOAA’s National Weather Service”. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2014-02-11.