Snow Day 2015: Unwarranted Panic Or Necessary Precaution?

The first full snow day at Penn State in seven years turned out to be much ado about nothing. The university administration has become infamous for it’s refusal to cancel classes over the years. On Wednesday, however, conditions were relatively tame and paled in comparison to the blizzards of recent years. And yet, for college seniors, it was the first time during their Penn State tenure that a full day of classes were canceled.

While I’m sure that nobody is complaining about the extra day of rest and relaxation, plenty of students expressed confusion about the university’s rationale for shutting down. It was an odd course of events, with a delay coming in the morning followed by a last-second cancellation and an apology from the administration for cutting it so close.

We reached out to the university for further explanation on the closure after a chilly but innocuous snow day.

“It was a late cancellation call and we acknowledged that the campus sidewalks and campus roadways were not ready for prime time. That’s the main reason,” Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said.

She cited the overnight rain, which washed away salt on the sidewalks, for the cancellation. The Office of Physical Plant (OPP) had salted campus in preparation for Wednesday’s cold, but the “intense and steady rain overnight” undid most of that work. Powers said that the ice covering campus grounds in the morning was “much heavier than the snow,” which complicated the cleanup process and made it difficult to remove.

“More effort and more time was required to clear the roads, pathways and steps than originally thought,” Powers said. “OPP couldn’t just drive the little brusher machines over the sidewalks — because that was not going to do much of anything with this particular condition. It took hard physical labor to break up some areas of the ice.”

The university evaluated the forecast for the remainder of the day, which included a decrease in temperatures and incoming rain/snow that could have made campus travel more dangerous. In order to avoid having students and staff commute to campus after a delay only to later announce an early dismissal, the decision was made to shut things down entirely.

“The decision was made late in the morning that for everyone’s safety, particularly those who drive, we needed to get the campus cleaned up and the parking lots cleared,” Powers said.

It was the most prudent and safety-conscious decision to be made with everything taken into consideration. The bad weather never came, though.

“We guessed wrong. The weather turned out to be much milder later in the day than what was predicted in the morning — so Mother Nature scored one on us,” Powers said. “Forecasting weather is a tricky business — given the many shifts in weather patterns that can occur over even an eight-hour period. We’ve come to learn that being second-guessed is part of the process — but knowing that we can improve our process and perhaps do better the next time is something we wanted our internal community to know.”

The last-minute decision to cancel classes may have seem ill-advised and nonsensical at the time, but Penn State had the best interest of students and staff alike in mind.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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