Fox: Get ready to weather more second-guessing

Friday, February 19, 2010

As someone who is burned out on snow, I recently heard bad news: the worst might not be over. It appears we'll have below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation, which adds up to more ice and snowflakes.

Yes, this is the Opinion page.

No, this isn't a column about climate change.

I write this news because it seems like nothing brings out second-guessers quite like winter weather. I'm a big fan of sports and politics --- both of which lend themselves quite nicely to second-guessing -- and so this is nothing really new to me.

Talk radio, for instance, lives on the ability of people to second-guess others. Whether the subject is a policy debate or if a coach should have gone for it on fourth-and-1, opinion and conjecture are part of the mainstream.

And that's how it should be. Policy makers and football coaches are well-paid professionals, and part of their jobs -- whether they like it or not -- is to explain their decisions. Some will agree; some won't. It's part of life.

When the weather turns frigid and snow begins to fall, no group is subject to second-guessing quite like weathermen. (Except for, maybe, those responsible for canceling school. But we'll get to that in a second.)

As anyone who has been here for even a little bit will tell you, Middle Tennessee is the home to uncertain weather, especially this time of year. Thanks largely to our latitude, the region is usually on the rain-snow line, meaning that it doesn't take much for forecasts -- and weather -- to change quickly.

This doesn't happen much in the north -- if there's snow to the west, you're sure to see it.

One of the Nashville TV stations runs a weather blog, which often features lively debates as the possibility of winter weather approaches. Reading the comments section is often like reading a team's message board. Everyone will have his or her own opinion as to what will happen, complete with predictions.

Of course, that uncertainty leads to some misfires. More than once over the years, we've seen forecasts for heavy snow, only to get a dusting -- if that. And when that happens, out come the jokes ("What I'm going to do with 27 loaves of bread?") and the mostly playful accusations of a conspiracy with the grocery stores.

But it's better to be safe than sorry. Better to err on the side of forecasting too much snow than too little. Better to leave people disappointed and with too much bread than to leave them stranded on the side of the road with nothing to eat.

That's also a good rule of thumb when choosing whether to criticize the decision to cancel schools.

"Safety is our first concern," said Director of Schools Roy Dukes (he made the decision as the interim director) after he canceled classes last month in advance of an approaching snowstorm. "The worst part of it could be to not call it off and then have a bus get in a wreck or a parent getting in a wreck on the way to school."

Dukes hit the nail on the head.

Any parent's worst nightmare is to have a child hurt. It's no better to put them on a bus without seat belts and watch that bus travel down treacherous roads. We're talking about school. Not Kroger. Not Wal-Mart. Not the mall.

While I understand the desire to teach work ethic and responsibility to our children, it's also good to teach them to be cautious and to avoid taking unnecessary risks. I'm not sure what makes a snow day frivolous -- it's in the eye of the beholder.

I do know that caution is usually a good thing, and when children are involved, it's never a bad thing.

It's worth remembering. Because if the forecast is any indication, it's a debate we might have again very soon.