By Aiden McLean (Reporter ‘21)
Be honest, we all believed that no year could get as bad as 2020, then 2021 came around and said, “hold my beer.” Everything bad about the past year was on full display this January, from COVID to painful politics; then February came around and reminded us that climate change was still a thing. Snowstorm after snowstorm has coated the East Coast, temperatures fluctuating from freezing temperatures to almost pleasant spring weather, and Texas froze over faster than a Mortal Kombat player against Sub Zero. We have experienced three two-hour delays, one of which became a virtual day, and according to an article by the Inquirer, the city of Philadelphia has received 22.5 inches (or almost two feet) of snow this year. This snow, unsurprisingly, caused some problems and confusion among students and faculty about everyday operations.
Because we’ve been virtual for almost one year now, we have systems and routines already in place to operate away from school, but the school was also just starting to open up and bring classes in person again and would like to have students return to campus as much as possible. FOCUS held an interview with Mr. Thomas MacFarlane regarding this issue: “Because we have several options we are torn between giving a complete snow day free of everything, (which is something that all students and faculty would appreciate from time to time and perhaps need) and our ability to keep in touch and keep moving forward by having virtual classes, and then our desire to have people back on campus again.” In the past we all remember there being only two options for snow, the two-hour delay or snow day, which caused little confusion and the only problems were with scheduling and classes falling behind—now, with three options, every option has its pros and cons, which vary with every new storm. “The late opening was one option that we went to, but of course the late opening meant that we opened right in the middle of our community block so we had to consider if that was a time when we should be opening. As you saw there were times where we did open with a community block and others where we shifted classes around.” The problem with late openings, as always, is scheduling for classes. Either way, for some classes, their times are going to be reduced and work will fall behind. With the previous schedule, classes would meet four to five times a week, but with our new schedule classes only meet three to four times a week. Granted, these classes are longer, but, because of how less frequently they meet, missing a day means less time to learn, which means it may be more harmful for some classes to skip because they lose out on so much time to go over coursework compared to the schedules of yesteryears.
So, why didn’t the school always go virtual? We have the resources and the systems already in place to learn from home, and studying from home would be safer as many student-drivers have stated that they felt uneasy driving in icy conditions because they haven’t had a lot of experience in these conditions. The problem is that while the upper and middle schools are well prepared both physically and mentally for virtual learning, the lower school is not. “Sometimes, the requirements or the desires of lower school families would be different than those of upper school families. A lower school family might want a late arrival because their younger children might want to get out of the house and want to have any opportunity to be on campus, whereas for an upper school student a virtual day would make more sense sometimes. We have students driving, we have virtual classes already that are useful in ways that the lower school finds tougher.” Both schools try to operate off of the same decisions, but Mr. MacFarlane’s understanding is that there are conversations to split the two campuses and have one go off of one plan and the other go off of something else.
Now that winter is over, there is little need to return to such ideas or plans for the time being, and despite how many storms we got in such a short period, the number or ferocity of storms isn’t out of the ordinary. Normally, February is the month where many powerful snow storms occur. What isn’t natural is the lack of snow we had in December and January because of climate change. All across the country, climate change is creating dangerous and catastrophic situations like fires in Alaska or droughts in California. Snow in Texas is rare but not unheard of; however, the long snowstorms and cold front that went over Texas during the week of February 14th were a very unusual occurrence caused by climate change. Texas is located near the latitude of 30o where the two Hadley cells, the northern Hadley Cell and the northern Ferrel Cell, collide. Cold air traveling from the north meets warm air from the south and this coalition creates a jetstream which acts sort of like a wall. This jetstream restricts the ability for cold air to move significantly further south and vice versa. However, as climate change worsens, the temperature difference between the two gets lower and lower, weakening the jetstream and this barrier. What ultimately happened was that a large cold front came down the midwest, causing massive snow storms across Texas.
For over a week, cities like Austin, Houston, and Dallas were snowed in with temperatures going down into the single digits nightly for around a week. Due to the cold and snow, most of the energy sources for the Texas Power grid were inoperable, and because Texas runs on its own private and corporate power grid, they could not receive energy from other states, leaving thousands of homes without electricity or heat. Pipes burst in people’s homes as their water froze, and in some instances the prices for electricity shot up 7400% in value. FOCUS was able to interview our fellow student Katia Campos, who currently lives in Texas. Fortunately, by living far enough away from the major cities, she and her family didn’t experience the same things that people in the city experience—beyond some flurries on the 14th of February, Katia didn’t experience any more unusual weather, but that didn’t mean she was left unaffected. “From the 14th to the 20th, we all experienced what I am going to say, panic. Not really from ourselves but from people around us as everyone else began to get concerned as everything started to get colder. Pipes were freezing, I know that the next town over was experiencing a lot of pipe bursts and at the same time power outages. A concern that most of the population here had was what would we do if we had no gas and a lot of people had started to run out to get gas to the point that pumps were starting to say that there were literally no gas left. There was little worry over the weather occurrence and more of a worry of what people would do as they were scared about what to do next.” Katia continued, saying that, because of the panic, a food shortage occurred. “It’s been a while since we’ve had to limit what it is we’ve needed to buy. There are egg counts where we are limited to only one purchase of eggs per person, you can only get a certain amount of meat, and (as of the time of this interview on the 1st of March) there is still a lack of resources in the stores that we’ve noticed since the snowstorm hit. It is a little concerning but food is starting to return to the counters though there are still shortages. There is a shortage of milk, eggs, bread, and meat.” Thankfully things are starting to dial down and return to a somewhat normal circumstance.
With the continued effects of global warming and systems already in place for virtual learning, it does seem that the time of snowdays is about to go the way of the dodo, but Mr. MacFarlane isn’t worried: “I think it’s a cultural necessity, never mind a mental health necessity. I think we’re still going to still have snow days, just maybe not as often as we used to have them. If we’ve been having a lot of snow days and a lot of bad weather I think then absolutely we’re going to move to virtual on the second day of a snow day perhaps. We want families and students to enjoy the snow, to have that experience of being outside and helping shovel and not feeling constrained by class time, and not being stuck behind a computer screen all day. It’s going to be a balance in the future.” So worry not, for the snow day is not history, yet.