It seems every time there is a weather closure in Portland our decision makers get heavily criticized by people outside of our area and community. People from cities that get "real" snow will look at Portland and say, "they closed schools for an inch of snow? What a bunch of panicking babies!" or something to that effect. But I would ask for a little bit of patience and understanding of the particular circumstances that Portland faces. See, we don't really close our schools because of snow; we close them because of ice.
But that's not what happens in Portland. Generally In Portland the temperature never drops convincingly below the freezing point. During the night It will drop to about 30 Fahrenheit (only about -1 celsius) or maybe as low as 28. Then it will snow a little bit, and about an inch or two will stick because the ground has managed to cool enough for that, and in the morning it will look, ever so briefly, like a beautiful winter wonderland!
But very quickly things start to turn. around midday, the temperature might creep up to 33 or 34, just above the freezing point, and the snow will begin to melt, ever so slightly. But it certainly won't melt all the way, and as the sun sets and the temperature drops down again, all that melted water on top of and inside of the snow will freeze into solid ice. Now instead of that nice, powdery packed snow, we have essentially a layer cake of ice that is very dangerous to walk on or drive on. I mean, I've walked on actual snow, and I've gone snowshoeing in the mountains; it's not so bad. Portland ice is impossible to traverse safely. It's also very difficult to see and appropriately gauge, especially on the roads, and drivers who don't respect the dangers of winter storms in Portland very often hit patches of black ice that cause numerous accidents.
So I pose to you, dear reader, the following scenario: you are the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. You have been charged by the people of the city with the solemn task of educating, caring for, and providing for the safety of the district's roughly 49,000 children, and you're being asked to make a call. There's no snow on the ground yet in most of your district, but there definitely is snow in the outer parts of the district (another key thing to remember is that Portland is in a valley, and that means we're surrounded by hills that get hit harder by storms), and meteorologists advising you are 90% sure that while there will not be snow on the ground at the start out the school day, by the middle of the school day we will see a fairly serious ice storm that could strand kids at school and cause a lot of problems and put a lot of people at risk. The decision not to close schools has caused this to happen in the past, and in fact just last year the district decided not to close schools and a winter storm did blow in and strand children at school and caused accidents, etc. etc.
So you're 90% sure - or heck, let's say just 80% sure - that this will happen. Do you close the schools? Well, the superintendent said yes today, and I'm not about to say that decision was wrong. You're welcome to come to your own conclusions, but please consider the whole situation.