When the weather outside is frightful, one Westport teenager, Scott Pecoriello, 17, hopes that school superintendents are doing just what he expects them to do -- close school.
Pecoriello has built a smart phone app that predicts when Fairfield County schools will close as the result of bad weather.
On Monday, for instance, the Staples High School junior predicted that there was a 65 percent chance that Westport would close its schools, and a 55 percent chance that Fairfield would as an early-morning storm closed in. While both districts cancelled classes for the day, Westport school officials didn't announce the closing until approximately 6:50 a.m., prompting complaints from high school faculty and parents since school starts at 7:30 a.m. Fairfield school officials announced their district closing at approximately 5:30 a.m.
Perhaps Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon should have consulted Pecoriello's app, called Know Snow, to help make the decision on closing schools Monday.
Pecoriello said that Know Snow is 84 percent accurate at predicting school cancellations, which he said isn't bad considering all the factors. Know Snow, available for free in Apple's App Store, went online in December. About 300 have been downloaded, he said, and there are more requests every day. His Facebook page Wild About Weather gets 100,000 hits a week and he has 8,500 followers as people turn to him for forecasts.
The easiest predictions to make are when snow starts falling overnight or in the morning and it's is expected to snow all day -- then schools are generally closed, he said.
"But when it snows overnight and stops at 6 a.m. -- that' a very tough call," the young meteorologist said.
Pecoriello takes into account more than just the weather when he makes his school-closing predictions. There are many factors for different towns, he said. Topography makes a difference, and hilly towns take school off more often when it's snowy or icy then flatter towns. And sometimes a school superintendent's decision -- and Pecoriello's predictions -- can even be based on financial factors.
"In Bridgeport the snow removal budget has been cut. They close and delay a lot more than other towns. That's something you have to take into account," the teen said.
The biggest purchasers of his Know Snow app are residents of Wilton and Weston, perhaps because the roads are more rural than some coastal towns, he surmised. And the two towns where, in his opinion, the superintendents make the most mistakes about not calling off school in bad weather are Westport -- although he conceded his town has been better than last year -- and Fairfield.
As he makes his predictions, Pecoriello puts himself in the shoes of the superintendent for each community.
"What does the superintendent think as he looks out in the morning?" Pecoriello asks himself. If he was a school superintendent he would close school more often. "It's better to be safe than sorry. It would be better to close school."
Pecoriello's science teacher at Staples High School, Michele Morse, said that she's never had a student so passionate about the weather.
"Scott's all about the weather. He comes into class and gives us the weather update, and draws a map of U.S.," to make forecasts, she said. "It's actually pretty good. His predictions are pretty accurate."
Pecoriello is a member of Morse's Science Research class, a long-running program at Staples where students work on major scientific projects. His project is to compare three different weather prediction computer models to determine which model has greater accuracy.
"He's my first -- the first one to be really interested in weather in the program," she said. "He's really our resident meteorologist."
Although the phone app is new, Pecoriello has run a website -- www.wildaboutweather.com -- and a weather Facebook page for years. He has now enlisted the help of two other teens, Christopher Dickson, a high school senior in Hartford, and senior Alex Iannone on Long Island, to expand his regional forecasting and for better accuracy, Pecoriello said.
The high school student's interest in weather predates both the school-closing app, and the website and Facebook page by several years. His mother, Andrea, has framed many of her son's weather maps drawn on the back of restaurant place mats when he was as young as 5. They now decorate the family's upstairs hallway. His parents once gave him a snow machine to produce snow in the backyard of his Westport home, and the Pecoriellos' house sports some weather measurement instruments on the roof.
"The meteorology stuck," his mother said. "I always wondered what he wanted to do next -- there was no next."