When Bill de Blasio addressed his decision not to close New York City schools for yesterday’s snowstorm, he pointed to history, noting that the city has only closed schools for snow 11 times since 1978. “Unlike some cities, we don’t shut down in the face of adversity,” he argued. “I’m going to make decisions based on the information we have.” Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña called it a “beautiful day.”
That got us wondering: if 10 inches of snow and 20mph winds won’t shut down the school system, what will? With some help from the city’s Department of Education, we dug through the New York Times’s article archive to find some information about the 11 storms that did close schools.
Photo: Anthony Catalano
February 6, 1978: The Blizzard of ’78 dropped 17.7 inches of snow on the city, prompting then-new mayor Ed Koch to close schools. Governor Hugh L. Carey asked President Jimmy Carter to declare “a major disaster” in New York.
Photo: Steve Zabel
April 7, 1982: The city saw about 10 inches in this unusual April snowstorm, giving kids a shortened day April 6 and the day off April 7. According to the New York Times, the storm was called “life-threatening,” closing airports and blocking traffic for miles on the Long Island Expressway.
January 8 and 9, 1996: The only consecutive snow days in the city came during the Blizzard of ’96, which deposited 20.2 inches of snow in Central Park and 27.5 on Staten Island. Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged New Yorkers to stay home, calling it the “largest storm” the city had ever seen. According to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, 26,528 tons of salt were dumped to keep the city’s streets free from ice.
March 5, 2001: By far the wimpiest of the bunch, a March 2011 storm closed schools with only 3.5 inches of snow. Wrote the Times: “In fairness to those recently maligned individuals who earn their keep trying to forecast the weather: it did snow. Granted, in many areas the snowfall came nowhere near to matching the breathtaking predictions that had people equating a trip to the 7-Eleven with an Antarctic expedition.”
January 28, 2004: This January storm brought about 10 inches of snow, prompting Mayor Bloomberg to close schools. Some New Yorkers were less than impressed. “I think we wimped out,” a Manhattan artist is quoted as saying in a Times article under the headline “Swamped by a 10-Inch Snowfall, And You Say This Is New York?”
March 2, 2009: Mike Bloomberg had strong words for those who complained about a later-than-usual school closure announcement during this storm, which brought 8.3 inches: “If you got up this morning, looked outside and the question didn’t come to you right away, hmm, I wonder whether or not school is going to be open today, and you didn’t know enough to call 311, I would suggest another day in school’s probably a good idea. I mean, c’mon.”
Photo: Raya Brass Band
February 10, 2010: This storm brought 10 inches of snow. Again, New Yorkers were unfazed. “This is not a tornado, this is not a hurricane or an earthquake. This is a snowstorm. New York is a little tougher than that,” said a Wall Street broker quoted in the Times. A much more fearsome snow was on its way to the city later that month.
February 26, 2010: The largest school-closing storm since the Blizzard of ’96 (but not the largest outright — that happened in 2006, when 26.9 inches of snow came but didn’t cancel schools) left a whopping 20.9 inches in its wake after 36 hours of snow. “We’ve had one storm after another,” said a National Weather Service meteorologist at the time. “That’s what people are going to remember.”
Photo: Third Age
January 27, 2011: A 19-inch snowstorm came in January of 2011. It was the fifth time Mayor Bloomberg elected to close schools for snow, and the last closure of his mayoralty.
January 3, 2014: Though Mayor de Blasio has seemed reluctant to close schools during this relentlessly snowy winter, he did once, for a storm considerably smaller than yesterday’s. In response to the revelation that Dante de Blasio’s friends hounded him about whether his father would close schools for this 6.4-inch, the mayor said if his teenage son didn’t want a snow day, “there’d be something wrong with him.”
(Top photo: @Rob Bennett/nycmayorsoffice)