When meteorologists announce something wicked this way comes, they're not staring into a boiling cauldron of witch hazel, cat hairs and snake skins. Despite some TV weathercasters' emphasis on good cheer, bad jokes and sharp suits, science also plays a role in predicting the weather.
Too bad science and politics have never been the best bedfellows.
Phil Volker, the former TV meteorologist who now contracts privately with this week's Rogues, Portland Public Schools and the Beaverton School District, told those clients and others Monday night, Jan. 15, to expect a "modest snow event" of one quarter to three quarters of an inch between 5 and 10 am the next morning. That put them and other area school districts on alert to start monitoring the storm's development even before the snow started falling hard.
But as 3 to 5 inches of snow started falling, Portland waited until 7:20 am and Beaverton administrators until 8:30 am to call off school, saying the storm caught them off guard. "This one caught everyone by surprise," Sarah Carlin Ames, spokeswoman for the Portland Public Schools, said last Tuesday.
Yet that statement comes up against an inconvenient truth: Volker upgraded the snowstorm's threat level at 3 am last Tuesday morning and made the call that 2 inches of snow would fall on the Portland area during that morning's commute, obliterating the claim that the snowfall was unexpected.
"It didn't catch me off guard, and it didn't catch my clients off guard," Volker says. "Ultimately, my clients make the decisions not just on forecasts but on road conditions."
Maureen Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Beaverton schools, echoed Ames' sentiment that the area's relatively heavy snowfall arrived unexpectedly last week, giving the Portland district some cover for its late call.
Consider that cover to have melted like last week's snowfall.