When I was growing up in western Canada we had the occasional “snow day;” although we “prided ourselves” on being able to get around in any kind of weather so these snow days were rare. Raising my children in the Northeast USA, our local school district annually added three “snow days” into the school calendar, and even when my children were very small, these days were regularly used even if the weather didn’t necessarily demand it. I have fond memories of the evening before a predicted heavy snow fall, my kids would – at the direction of their principal and teachers – put a teaspoon under their pillows and wear their pajamas inside out, hoping for a snow day! While those days are not actually that long ago, these days, my children’s schools have been regularly closed for many, many more days then three due to the impacts of extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Irene in 2011.Until recently however, I had never heard of or experienced “heat days,” days where local schools are closed because of excessive heat. Yet in my part of the country, this is now becoming a reality. In Chicago and the Midwest, many schools were closed on September 9th and September 10th, because of a “heat wave.”
One of our favorite Climate Mamas from Colorado reached out to us a recently and told us how her area schools were being closed more and more often because of heat “events.” As the reality of climate change settles in, I am sure we will see, if it isn’t already happening, local school districts putting “heat days” in their district planning schedules, just like many districts do now for snow.
What do these heat “emergencies” mean for our schools and our children, beyond a “day off?” For many, excessive heat brings: health problems and high pollution days that exacerbate breathing conditions; increases in and acceleration of high pollen days bringing on seasonal allergies earlier; as well as direct results including heat stroke and lethargy. Many schools, particularly in the northern half of our country, don’t have air conditioning. This is one of the reasons that “school vacation” has traditionally fallen in the northern hemisphere’s summer months of July and August, the warmest months of the year. But as summer conditions spread out to May, June, and September, costly renovations to schools including better insulation and air conditioning are becoming a reality for many school districts.
Grab the kids in your life, and “Google” heat days schools, and see how many results your search brings up and how many different geographic locations also appear. As climate change alters our “normal” remind your kids that this ISN”T the norm, but rather another unfortunate, costly and unhealthy by product of human caused climate change.
So, while some of your children may be “cheering on” today’s heat wave as a day “off” from school, do take some time to discuss why this is happening. We all should be demanding action on climate change. Ask your kids what your family can do today, to be part of the solution.