Windsor·Audio

Why are Windsor and Detroit experiencing this cold snap so differently?

Bitter cold has triggered a state of emergency in Michigan, with even the mail service being shut down in Metro Detroit. In Windsor, life is relatively normal.

Life is relatively normal in Windsor, while Michigan has declared a state of emergency

A women crosses W Grand Blvd. in Detroit's New Center Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019 as low temperatures dip below freezing. (Tanya Moutzalias/Ann Arbor News via AP)

There's no question, it's cold outside.

Today, Windsor broke the cold record for Jan. 30 when the temperature dropped to –21.7 C at 7 a.m.. The previous record was –20.6 C, set in 1951.

But there's an interesting contrast in how people along the border are handling this extreme weather.

In Michigan, today's cold snap has resulted in the governor declaring a state of emergency. Schools and universities are closed. Restaurants and libraries are shut down. Even the U.S. Postal Service suspended delivery.

Michigan state offices in Detroit are closed as low temperatures dip below freezing Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is closing state government for the third day this week due to winter weather, saying the step is needed to keep people safe. (Tanya Moutzalias/Ann Arbor News via AP)

But a mere 750 metres across the river in Windsor, life is relatively normal.

Sure, some cars groaned before starting this morning. And furnace repair and plumbers are probably getting more calls than usual.

However, businesses are open. People are at work. Even the school buses are running.

Why are we reacting to this weather so differently?

Glenn Maleyko is the superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools in Michigan. He lives just west of Windsor in LaSalle. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Glenn Maleyko is particularly suited to have some insight.

The LaSalle resident is a dual Canada-U.S. citizen who heads Dearborn Public Schools, one of the largest school systems in Michigan's Wayne County. He ordered the closure of his schools Wednesday because of the extreme cold.

"It was really based on student safety," he said. "We were projecting these temperatures that were so low, and I'm worried about students that may be out on the street; a bus may be late, a bus may break down."

Maleyko's own children, however, had to go to school —though he did drive them, instead of making them wait for the bus. That's because they both attend schools here in Canada, run by the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.

When asked why people in Michigan are reacting so differently to the record-breaking cold, Maleyko points to what he calls the "hype" generated by traditional and social media as a key factor, noting that media outlets at both the national and local level have been talking about the impending cold for days.

"I think it is cultural," he said, noting that he's noticed more pressure from parents for schools to close now than there was a decade ago. "The ratings for 'storm's coming' — it's a huge impact."

"And then when the governor declares a state of emergency, that puts a lot of pressure on all of us [to close]" he added.

Tap on the player above to hear Maleyko's full conversation with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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