Prairie Lights: A ‘snow day’ that won’t soon be forgotten


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Still haunted by memories of the recent record-breaking blizzard, these people nevertheless almost seemed to be enjoying themselves Saturday at Pioneer Park.

I can’t bring myself to criticize the officials in Los Angeles who decided to cancel school last Tuesday in response to a terrorist threat received by email.

People were already jittery in the wake of the killings in nearby San Bernardino, so the authenticity of the threat had to be weighed against some very real fears and some daunting responsibilities.


Ed Kemmick

I cannot say the same thing about the decision by School District 2 in Billings, and a few other surrounding districts, to close schools last Tuesday because … well, because it was snowing. In Billings. In December.

Worse yet, the decision was made Monday night, before it was at all clear whether the storm would be as bad as predicted. According to reports in the Gazette, a major factor in the decision seems to have been that District 2 buses “experienced significant delays” Monday afternoon, prompting “about 75 percent of bus drivers to recommend that school be canceled Tuesday.”

God forbid that we should ever subject our children to significant delays. The backbone of this country, the fuel that powers this economic colossus, is instant gratification. You make enough kids experience significant delay and Lord only knows what might result.

And then there’s that bit about three-fourths of bus drivers wanting Tuesday off. I would never in a million years dream of impugning those good people, but is it unreasonable to ask whether the desire to get some Christmas shopping done could have played even a tiny role in their decision-making process?

No matter how the decision was made, the fact is that Montana instantly became the laughingstock of the world. It was widely and quite justly considered the wimpiest snow day ever declared north of the 40th parallel.

More than a century of continual effort on the part of right-minded Montanans to project an image of self-reliant toughness, of stoic reserve, went out the window in a moment.

That was just in regard to our image outside the state. In state, Billings forever relinquished whatever claims to superiority it may have asserted over cities like Missoula and Bozeman. Our snow day—the first in at least 25 years—will be a taunt thrown in the faces of high school athletes for decades to come. Look for Billings-area legislators to be mocked during committee hearings in Helena.

It didn’t help that the Billings Gazette, in a rearguard action to preserve our reputation, ginned up the account of the “storm” that “forced” the school closure. “Snowfall doubles record,” a headline proclaimed Tuesday, and the story itself talked about how the snowfall “shattered records.”

You had to read on to discover that the so-called record was simply for the day, Dec. 14. So yes, the 6.2 inches that fell “more than doubled” the existing record of 2.9 inches, set on Dec. 14, 1989.

The very idea that 6.2 inches was enough to close the schools in Billings, Montana, was something no one would have believed before it actually happened. At cemeteries all over the city, deep rumblings could be heard from the graves of our hardy ancestors.

Nor did it help that the school superintendent in Laurel, Tim Bronk, refused to call a snow day in advance. Instead, he got up at 4:30 Tuesday morning and drove around to see for himself whether conditions warranted a closure.

He did say that “the closer you got to Billings, the worse it got,” but I’ll chalk that up to his being a team player. He was probably just trying to take some of the heat off Billings Superintendent Terry Bouck.

Still, who knows? If climate change advances at the rate predicted by the actual scientists who are doing the research, 6.2 inches of snow might be something that the schoolchildren of today could tell their children about.

“You should have seen it,” I can hear one of them say. “Your grandfather had to spend upwards of three minutes just scraping the windshield before he could drive to work that day, because private businesses soldiered on in the face of the relentless storm.

“And your grandmother? Ah, there was pioneer stock for you. She could have put her boots on, but they looked just terrible with her dress, so she ventured out into the teeth of the Arctic onslaught in three-inch heels. They don’t make them like that anymore.

“And you should have seen your great-aunt! She took care of us that day and somehow, in a feat that had bus drivers all over the city shaking their heads, she managed to drive us to Pioneer Park, where we spent the day sledding on that magnificent 6.2 inches of snow.

“Those, my dears, were the days.”

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