Office of the President

February 10, 2019

Snow disruptions

Ana Mari Cauce

This past week, Mother Nature reminded us who is in charge — giving Seattle our largest snowfall in 70 years. And she’s still at it. With more snow in the forecast, we expect continued fluidity this week in campus operations. Sign up for UW Alert and see for the most current information as we continue to evaluate conditions.

Sustained snow like this isn’t common in our coastal region. We typically get a few inches that might stick around a few hours, or even overnight, but then it melts away quickly due to rising temperatures and rainfall. So when snow comes, it is often accompanied by a bit of a celebratory response — we appreciate its rare appearance, its beauty and the opportunity to slow down just a bit — even if we don’t want to drive in it. But this year’s snow has been different, coming with temperatures that rarely rise above freezing. This presents some special challenges for everyone, as the snow accumulates and becomes compacted, or it melts and refreezes, creating patches of ice. This kind of snow is not the kind to celebrate as we work to keep our campus navigable and safe on a daily basis.

There is a team of people, from campus facilities, student life, police and public safety, our academic and athletics programs, and crisis and emergency communications, who gather to assess conditions on campus during inclement weather. I make the final call as to whether the University will suspend “normal operations” in Seattle — such as holding classes and athletic events, even as we recognize our students in residence halls and the public who traverse our open campus every day still require services and safety. We are informed by the best weather forecasts available and the most current information we have about the physical state of our campus from our facilities teams, who clear and maintain it 24 hours a day. Our priority is always the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors to campus.

We strive to make the call the previous day so employees and students can make plans in advance. When that’s not possible, we try to make a decision by 4 a.m. and no later than 6 a.m., before most of our staff or students have started their commutes. The first, second, third and overriding questions we ask ourselves are: Will campus be safe for our students, staff and visitors to navigate? Can students walk from their residence halls to their classes using pathways that have been cleared? What are the conditions of the roadways inside of campus? We also take into consideration the state of the roads that lead to campus, whether schools are closing and whether public transportation is operating normally.

When circumstances are unclear, we err on the side of caution. Our hospitals always remain open, and a range of facilities, grounds, maintenance and custodial personnel report to campus as essential employees no matter the conditions, as do staff who provide services or care for our resident students. We aim to keep our campus as safe as possible during snow events — plowing, sanding, salting and shoveling on a 24/7 basis. Whether classes are canceled or not, campus never truly “closes.” I am so grateful for the incredible staff who do this work on behalf of all of us.

Some of you may be concerned about what will happen to schoolwork or classes that you’ve missed because they were canceled. The answer will vary depending on your classes, and your instructors should be talking to you about that or providing a plan. Missed classes cannot be rescheduled, but faculty may offer students the opportunity to participate in online classes, assignments or discussion groups.

One of the things I have always been most proud of is the strength, resilience and ways in which our UW community comes together for one another. We are all eager to get back to our normal routines for learning, teaching, research, healthcare and public service. As this ongoing disruption to routines and schedules continues, I want to give a special thank-you to all those who are working around the clock clearing walkways, plowing and de-icing in harsh conditions to make it possible for the rest of us to do our work. And a heartfelt thanks to all of you — faculty, staff and students — for your patience and flexibility.