Don’t Put On Your Stupid Hat

By: Bryan Norcross , 8:58 PM GMT on February 13, 2014

Another snowstorm, another fiasco, or three. Tens of thousands of North Carolinians are stuck on highways in Charlotte and Raleigh as another state can’t manage a snowstorm. And a tempest erupts in New York City as kids are sent to school despite a forecast of 8 to 12 inches of snow.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed get high marks for quickly learning the lessons of the debacle two weeks ago and doing things right for Winter Storm Pax. They put out a strong message well in advance of the storm, but mostly they showed leadership by making it clear that they were closing the City of Atlanta and state operations in 91 counties. Period. The tone of the announcement was forceful and direct, and essentially dared businesses to even think about forcing employees to get out on the roads.

In North Carolina, the National Weather Service had Winter Storm Warnings out for Charlotte and Raleigh a day in advance. The text was a strongly worded forecast for weather that would “severely disrupt travel”. Governor Pat McCrory was on TV a day ahead of the storm closing down government offices, and the schools followed suit. But, thousands of people went to work anyway. The governor urged people not to “put on your stupid hat”, but too late. Stupid hats were already in fashion, and lots of people got to wear them as they trudged home from their abandoned cars.

But the big stupid-hat awards go to the private employers that had people, and in some cases forced people, to come to work. Just like in Atlanta two weeks earlier, we heard a number of reports from people who were told their job was at stake if they didn’t come in.

In Atlanta, the super fiasco of two weeks ago was still ringing in everybody’s brain, so a stern tone from the governor was enough to keep careless employers in line. But in North Carolina, Governor McCrory didn’t have a recent trauma to build on, and his let’s-all-do-the-right-thing tone was not enough. And in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley said the state can’t prevent businesses from requiring people to come to work, but she hopes they listen to the warnings about the treacherous roads. Huh?

There is something seriously wrong here. The state can require people to wear seat belts, but it can’t keep businesses from firing employees if they don’t drive in “treacherous” conditions. Since when doesn’t the state have a role in public safety?

The best I’ve ever seen at handling this problem was the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Alex Penelas, during a marginal hurricane threat in the late 90s. A reporter asked him what people should do if they lose their job because they don’t go to work because he was telling everybody to stay off the road. He said he wanted to hear about it and the employer would deal with him directly. That did the trick.

Closing down businesses is a big, disruptive, expensive deal, and should never be done lightly. But, if it’s too dangerous for government employees to come to work, how is it not too dangerous for workers in a private business? Leadership means making tough decisions, but leaders need legal levers to pull once they make the decisions. Just because tough talk from the Georgia governor got the job done this time does not mean it will work a few years from now after a stretch of mild winters.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the dilemma in his news conference today as he was barraged with questions about his decision to open the schools with a big snowstorm forecast. He rightly said, “many families have to go to work… they do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids”. He also pointed out that school is where some kids get their only square meals. But, shockingly and depressingly, once again the administration seemed to be confused by the meaning of the words in a weather warning from the National Weather Service. (I refer you back to the Hurricane Sandy mega fiasco.)

The forecast for New York City issued at 4:03 pm Wednesday called for 8 to 12 inches of snow, which will “make travel treacherous”. The Mayor wanted a “guarantee” of a foot to call off school, but on the other hand he acknowledged that a weather forecast is never a guarantee. A bad case of circular reasoning where the only guarantee is confusion.

A forecast of 8 to 12 inches of snow means: based on the best scientific information available, the highest expected snowfall is a foot. That does NOT mean, however, that the highest POSSIBLE amount of snow is a foot. Basically it means, plan for foot but be ready for a little more. The Mayor and his people were somehow surprised by the heavy snow. He kept referring to a best-case forecast, which basically meant he was counting on the forecast being wrong and was hoping for the best.

I take the Mayor and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina at their word that they plan to open up the decision-making process so people understand why and when schools will be closed in the future. But if the Mayor and the Chancellor really think that this storm was “in a grey area” or “so unpredictable”, there are bigger problems they have to solve.

The forecast was clear and made well in advance. If the Mayor had any other idea in his mind than “up to a foot of snow is expected with a possible heavy burst in the morning” when he decided not to close the schools, then whatever malfunction caused some other less treacherous forecast to inform his decision-making needs to be found and corrected.

If the communications was not clear from the National Weather Service, fix it immediately. Winter is not over.

If he got the right message, but decided to thread the needle and hoped to squeeze the buses through and around the heavy snowfall, then that reasoning has to be re-examined as well.

Hopefully this will all work out. The kids will get home safe and lessons will be learned. But, come on, enough is enough. It’s plenty fair for the politicians to complain about the meteorologists when they get it wrong, but they also have to accept responsibility for their decisions when the forecast is right.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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15. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
7:39 PM GMT on August 24, 2014
bnorcross has created a new entry.
13. Wyote
4:34 PM GMT on February 25, 2014
Thanks Patrap for bring this up.

I have taught and used speech recognition programs since 1999. The latest versions are exponentially better than the previous ones. There is no excuse for inadequate or piece-meal captions today. The personnel giving the reports can easily be given a brief training to improve their accuracy. It is currently, right out of the box, 95% accurate with 5 minutes training.

"Could the FCC issue fines to anyone falling short of their expectations?
"We'll see," Wheeler said"

If fines are what it would take, then yes!

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
12. Patrap
4:21 PM GMT on February 25, 2014
Please share this for it is very important that the "word" gets out to the hearing impaired on severe weather alerts, and it ain't happening like it should.

FCC's new closed captioning rules had long journey
FCC rules aimed at stopping inaccurate closed captioning took ten years to become a reality. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made it a priority of his regime.

"Five wins and a very light power reese know" sounds more like gibberish than a weather forecast.
But that was the closed caption that hearing-impaired people got during a report from the WeatherNation channel last month. What the caption was supposed to say was, "high winds and a very light, powdery snow."
Closed captioning is designed to help the deaf and hearing-impaired enjoy television and receive important news and weather reports.
Unfortunately, captions are often riddled with typos and incomplete sentences that leave viewers struggling to make sense of what is being said.
ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll
"It's frustrating," said Cheryl Simpson, a hearing-impaired Norfolk, Va., resident who often has to rely on her husband to tell her what's happening on the screen.
During emergency news alerts, she said, "The stuff you see on the crawl does not match what they are saying."
Tom Wheeler agrees. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission chairman issued new rules that the regulatory agency hopes will improve closed captioning, which is mandated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
"Something needs to be done," Wheeler said of the current state of closed captioning.
The FCC will require that captions match spoken words in dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible, according to agency officials familiar with the order.
PHOTOS: Box office top 10 of 2013 | Biggest flops of 2013
The order will also mandate that captions not block other content on the screen, overlap one another, run off the edge of the video screen or be blocked by other information.
The bar will be slightly lower for news, sports and other programming that airs live as opposed to entertainment programming that is completed weeks before airing.
However, the agency still wants improvement on the often sloppy captioning that accompanies live programming.
At the FCC meeting, Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, stressed the need for better captioning of news programming.
"One of the most frightening moments for my wife and I was the sniper shootings that took place in late 2002," Stout said, using sign language. "Local stations in my area showed breaking news on the latest developments, but they were not captioned. We felt trapped and helpless."
FACES TO WATCH 2014: Digital media
The first TV programming ever to feature captioning was the PBS cooking show "The French Chef" with Julia Child in 1972. But closed captioning didn't become commonplace until the 1990s.
And even when it became a requirement in 1996, the FCC didn't foresee the need for any sort of quality control requirements for the industry.
"The lack of consistency in the quality of TV captioning demonstrates that the original assumptions that the marketplace would ensure quality captions have not borne out," said Karen Peltz Strauss, deputy of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

Wheeler not only expressed frustration about the current state of closed captioning, but he also wasn't happy with how long it took the agency to act on concerns about it.
The FCC was first asked to address the state of closed captioning a decade ago and issued a notice of proposed rules to try to improve the situation in 2005. The matter has pretty much been in limbo until Wheeler, who was sworn in as chairman last November, made it a priority.

"Ten years is too slow a pace," Wheeler said at the meeting, and then signed, "This is only the beginning."
The majority of closed captioning is outsourced by TV stations and broadcast and cable networks. Jill Toschi, vice president for operations at the National Captioning Institute, said the FCC's actions are a "very positive step" and send a "strong message that caption producers need to be committed quality."
Wheeler promised that the FCC won't forget about this issue going forward.
"We'll keep pace with how it's working," he said.
Could the FCC issue fines to anyone falling short of their expectations?
"We'll see," Wheeler said.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
11. stanchaz
10:39 PM GMT on February 23, 2014
With regard to New York City and Mayor DeBlasio's decision not to close the schools, I disagree with your analysis. For several reasons.
Firstly, I have see MANY dire NYC forecasts fizzle out in the last hours or minutes, over the years, in NYC. If we made school-closing decisions solely on that basis alone, we'd have make-up school days well into the summer. In addition some forecasts were predicting six or fewer inches because of a switchover ot rain on the coast, which is where we are in NYC.
Secondly a matter of logistics- one needs to make such a decision both with an eye on what is actually happening in real time , AND time-wise,-- with enough lead time (several hours) to allow working parents to make decisions and arrangements about who will care for their younger children. This takes time and effort on the part of parents -we can't therefore , in NYC, make split-secong immediate decisions in these matters for this reason.
(As an aside this may argue for split school closing decisions- one decision to open schools for older students, one for younger students who might need home care or supervision when school is closed).
Thirdly, the timing on this storm was awful- on a weekday early morning, whereby at 4-5am the storm was just coming in, just starting. A decision would have been easier and more clear cut had we already been in the teeth of the storm before early morning, or after the storm, instead of having to make a decision during that nighttime/very early morning time period when the storm was light and still had uncertainties, but decisions needed to be made.
In this regard, I was up that morning, and at 5am the snow was light -an inch ot two at most- up until nearly rush hour, when a very heavy band of snow came thru, followed by a period of sleet, then rain. It was slippery and nasty with the wind, yes, but hey that's Winter, and this is NYC! We live with this, we're New Yorkers, we're not Atlanta! And very early that morning I would have made the same decision, given the time constraints we were working under and the uncertainties about the timing of the changeover to rain.
To sum up, the Mayor has a host of OTHER factors, besides the changing and often imperfect weather forecasts, that impact upon his school-closing decisions.
As regards "weather-man" Al Roker's comments on the Mayor's decision:
As yes, the lovable Al Roker, the man who claims to know everything and everything, including how Mayor DeBlasio should do HIS job.
%u2028It's interesting (and telling) that Al's " one formal credential is to possess an expired American Meteorology Society Television Seal of an unknown year". I suspected as much. Al reads the weather report well, looks to me like he may be a "one-term" weatherman (to use a term that he is fond of).
Al Roker should check out the fate of NYC television weatherman Tex Antoine, who was promptly discarded after an on-air gaff years ago.
Watch out Al ... you may be next!
p.s the amount quoted: 8 to 12 inches was specifically forecast to occur in toe separate timeslots--one in the morning, and one stating in the evening, as it did occur. Therefore it is quite misleading to state the forecast as 8 to 12 , in terms of basing the school closing decision on that TOTAL amount, spread over many hours, both before and well after the decision had to be made by the Mayor.
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10. NYBizBee
12:04 PM GMT on February 23, 2014
Well said !

I am in NYC, thing the mayor forgets is the school system is the employer to thousands as well, Most who live far from the school they work at. The roads that morning were very unsafe ( almost un passable). Bad job by mayor and his team. Hope they learned by this before someone gets hurt in the future. They also put out a stat that since 1978 the NY public school system had only been closed 11 times. I cant say again they should never get the mindset to jep safety because of a feeling of obligation, to me thats def DUMB!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. Johnnythegeek
12:06 PM GMT on February 19, 2014
All it takes is one stupid person to create a big pile up on the interstate, or drown in a flooded street or cause innocent people to lose their lives or be seriously injured. That's why as a truck driver I try very hard to shut down during major weather events. Because as it goes human's are always going to be stupid. Some mistakes we will never learn from.
At best all human's can do is build safer vehicles, avoid situations that put us at more risk. You would think that in the middle of Winter people would have learned to slow down, leave space between other vehicles and monitor road conditions. Some take chances because they are always late, in a hurry or just can't relax. Every time they get behind the wheel they have to make it a race. What's even worse is when places like Atlanta unfamiliar with snow and ice and unprepared for it creates chaos. Those areas should always be extra prepared and close roads and make people stay home. The costs of life and property is not worth it when you have the opportunity to save it. Shame on politicians who can't even monitor the weather and prepare and protect its citizens.
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8. dewpoint
1:10 AM GMT on February 18, 2014
Thank you for this post! I live in Raleigh, NC. Our family was adequately prepared with whatever we needed for at least five days without power after being told that after the snow, a crippling ice storm was to follow. We were prepped on the Tuesday night before the storm. I send out several pleas on social media to my local friends and family to remind them of the approaching weather system, and that they should plan appropriately and have all of their supplies by Tuesday night.

Once the snow started falling, heavy at times, around 12:40 pm on Wednesday, Feb.12, our local news switched to coverage of people on the roadways. People were stranded, they were abandoning their cars. It was crazy, but kind of expected. Everyone panicked and left work soon after the snow started to fall. I wish that more people took heed of the NWS warnings that were put out in advance of this storm. All that I kept hearing was, "I didn't expect conditions to deteriorate so fast." I feel for those who had to go to work. I hope that their employers rethink their policies when the next situation arises.
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7. wvjohn123
12:25 AM GMT on February 16, 2014
Nice piece on an important topic. Thanks.
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6. airman45
1:00 PM GMT on February 15, 2014
You call it a stupid hat......I call it a greedy hat!
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5. georgevandenberghe
10:54 PM GMT on February 14, 2014
I pulled the following from a North Carolina Labor policy FAQ site.

Does my employer have the right to make me come to work during adverse weather conditions?

Yes. Since an employer does not have to have an adverse weather policy at all, the employer can simply inform its employees that they must report to work whenever the business is open regardless of the weather conditions or road conditions. With very few employment law exceptions (discussed below), an employer can make staying at work or reporting to work during adverse weather a condition of employment.

What if the governor declares a "state of emergency" and asks everyone to stay off the roads?
It does not matter if state officials have declared a state of emergency and are advising people to stay off of the roads. The decision to stay open or to close, for its employees to remain at work or leave early, or for its employees to report to work or not during adverse weather conditions, is entirely up to each individual employer to make on its own.

How an employer treats its employees during adverse weather conditions comes under the concept of "employment-at-will". This means that unless there is a specific law to protect employees or there is an employment contract providing otherwise, then an employer may treat its employees as it sees fit, and the employer can hire or discharge employees at the will of the employer for any reason or no reason at all.

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note something is inserting a space between h and tm. Remove the
space when pasting into your browser
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4. Wyote
5:52 PM GMT on February 14, 2014
An excellent piece identifing some of the difficulty with weather emergency response.

I would like to add that the hard core push by media such as Fox News to develop an anti-science bias in it's audiance is part of the inertia with intelligent response. The climate change denial meme has knock-on effects across the spectrum of scientific news, discussion and emergency notification.

Add in the some of the attempts by the hardcore religious organizations (see the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate last week), and you have a significant push back against rational and critical thinking.

What the hell is happening to education?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. Astrometeor
3:07 AM GMT on February 14, 2014
It's not just snow that causes massive communication errors.

Back in May of 2010, the city of Nashville would receive 14 inches of rain over a period of two days...Saturday and Sunday. The breakdown in communication came between the business operators along the Cumberland River, the NWS, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The NWS failed to get adequate flood warnings out ahead of time (even I didn't know how bad it was until I saw the news), and the Army Corps specifically told the businesses that there was no way the levees could be topped. Sometime early Sunday morning, after some 10 inches of rain had fallen, the lakes were swelled to such a size to present a threat to the Corps' dams. They released a wall of water...and didn't tell anyone downstream.

The effect was several deaths on I-24, and hotel residents being evacuated by boat.

Unfortunately, because of how rare these storm systems are...I am afraid that time will pass, the people (and the government) will become complacent, and the issue will repeat itself.
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2. Patrap
2:07 AM GMT on February 14, 2014
Its not that Hard to do.

Have a plan, practice yer plan.

Allow for all bias toward safety of the Public.

When in doubt, default to the above.

Review plans seasonally for feedback and suggestive inference and improved methods.

Its not that hard to do.

We have a motto in Emg. Mgt. and Disaster Response/Relief in Se La. on it.

Its easy.

"Never again".

A good start for all involved.

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1. preape
10:17 PM GMT on February 13, 2014
Wow, Sir you read My mind. I ranted about this on a amateur radio net last evening.
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