Published Online: September 26, 2001
Published in Print: September 26, 2001, as Take Note

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Their Own Crystal Ball

The Ames, Iowa, school district is taking responsibility for its own weather forecasting.

The 4,700-student district has bought a $900 annual subscription from DTN Kavouras Weather Service of Minneapolis and purchased a weather satellite dish and monitor that allow continuous access to local forecasts online. The private service has more than 160,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada.

"We want to make appropriate decisions on school closings, and relying on broad services just wasn't getting it done," explained William Schoemenberger, the district's technology director.

Inaccurate weather reports can mean extended school days, angry parents, and frustrated transportation employees, he pointed out. "These decisions often have to be made at 4 or 5 in the morning, so that you don't have kids standing outside waiting for a bus when the wind chill makes it feel like it's 30 below zero," he said. "TV stations aren't providing forecast information at those hours."

The Ames district is not alone. Scott Dahlin, the transportation supervisor for the 10,500-student St. Cloud, Minn., district, says his schools rely on local information supplied by St. Cloud University's earth sciences department.

Paul Speranza, who owns Speranza's Weather Service in Hendersonville, N.C., has been forecasting for the 23 schools in Hendersonville County for several years.

"They had a terrible time predicting with the National Weather Service," he said. "Here in North Carolina, elevation is the big story and determines how much snow you get in any given area."

School districts that seek out private forecasting companies can buy equipment for $600 to $1,000 and see fairly accurate results, Mr. Speranza said.

"Not to mention, it's a great learning tool for the students," he said. "They can learn to predict their own local weather and watch it come to pass."

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 4, Page 3

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