Cold’s chilling hit on schools

I love a good set of numbers — almost as much as a good beer or 9-iron shot.

As a kid, I kept my own stats for my hometown Buffalo Sabres hockey team. I never could put a mark in the championship column. And this year is like all the others for a Buffalo sports fan, which is to say:

There’s next year.

But they are numbers, nonetheless.

Last week’s cold provided a chance at an abundance of numbers to hunt.

The economy took a big hit — $5 billion by one estimate in an Associated Press story.

It reported that all 50 states dipped below 32 degrees at some point Tuesday. Hawaii measured 25 at the top of the Mauna Kea volcano.

I like the cost estimates of the impact now.

But the stat I liked most indicates a neat storm cost that we will not know till next fall.

Per the AP story and other various reports, the cold costs now include:

Airlines lost an estimated $50 million to $100 million in lost flights, said an analyst with Cowen and Co. in New York. By Friday, another analyst, MasFlight, put the loss at $1.4 billion.

As people are still having to fly — just a bit delayed — I wondered where the losses came from. The Cowen analyst said losses come from airlines not paying landing fees, fuel costs and miscellaneous labor costs those days.

School closures kept home parents who couldn’t find alternatives for their kids. Even if those parents worked from home, they might not have been as productive, said Tony Madden, regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The Vindy had at least one staffer fall into that situation. With Monday’s closure, he took the kids to the library.

He lost that choice Tuesday when the library also closed.

Natural-gas prices in New York City rose by nearly $60 per million BTUs on Monday.

Because of that: “There will be a negative impact on spending in February,” said Evan Gold of Planalytics, a weather business analysis firm.

The spike will hit consumers then with hefty bills, which likely will put a damper on their discretionary spending.

One breakdown of the weather costs was rather harsh on government workers.

In 2010, when “Snowmageddon” hit D.C. and other areas, it was assessed that there was $450 million in lost productivity due to the four-plus shuttered days.

That’s not necessarily lost income in that the federal workers were still paid. Work just wasn’t done. That story noted that such work rules are more common with government labor than private workforce. Thus, heavy government communities incur less lost wages or economy, just lost production.

But of all the numbers I found, what was most intriguing was weather’s impact on our kids.

It wasn’t snow-shoveling money or skiing trips.

It was their test scores.

Dave Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen conducted a study and wrote about it in Education Next magazine.

In trying to accurately measure the impact of the length of the school year on learning, they looked for variables in the school year length.

But as school styles and demographics vary so much, part of the challenge was how to measure like situations. They found measuring year-to-year performances of the same school was vital.

The tool to distinguish the length of the school year?

Snow days.

Per their report:

“Maryland and Colorado are ideal states in which to study weather-related cancellations. In addition to having large year-to-year fluctuations in snowfall, annual snowfall in both states typically varies widely across. Some districts are exposed to much greater variation in the severity of their winters than others, which allows us to use the remaining districts to control for common trends shared by all districts in the state.”

Work was conducted in 2007 and 2008.

In Colorado, it was estimated that each additional inch of snow in a winter reduced the percentage of third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students who passed math assessments by between one-half and seven-tenths of a percentage point.

How’s that matter? In winters with average levels of snowfall (about 17 inches), students passing proficiency standards is about 1 to 2 percentage points lower than in winters with little to no snow.

In Maryland, experts found the percentage of students passing math assessments fell by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school was closed. The impact was larger in lower grades.

Most kids had three days off this week.

Tests will be in a couple months.

And next fall, those test results will come out. Keep watch on them as a final measure of this week’s “coldmageddon.”

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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