By Rebecca Torchia
According to superstition, pajamas that are worn inside out and backwards lead to the cancellation of classes for a snow day.
The University of Maryland – College Park usually closes for two or three snow days in the spring semester each year, Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, estimated.
While colleges and universities experience different numbers of snow days depending on their location, cancelling classes in the face of winter weather can be a difficult decision that affects teachers, residential students and commuters.
This decision is left to the senior vice president and provost, according to the University of Maryland’s Procedures for Delayed Openings and Campus Closings Due to Inclement Weather. Mary Ann Rankin currently occupies this position.
“I’m always the last word on it, supposedly,” Rankin said. “But I always consult with the person in charge of the grounds here, the chief of police, the president’s office, Linda Clement and the student services people.”
These consulting meetings are sometimes held the afternoon before a closing happens, especially if it is known a storm is approaching. Other times, it’s during a phone conference at 3 a.m. that the decision is made, Rankin said.
Some teachers expect snow days, and build lessons into their syllabus that can be skipped if a day is missed.
“A lot of professors, especially in the spring semester, recognize that there’s a pretty good chance we’ll have a day off,” Timothy Canty, a research assistant professor, said. “I design my lectures as such that I have a lecture I can throw away if there’s a missed day.”
Other instructors do not, and are forced to rearrange their lesson plan, sometimes cutting entire units, if too much time is lost.
“You never really recover,” Joshua Weiner, a professor in the English department, said.
Generally, professors can tolerate a few missed classes.
“Once it’s more than two days, it becomes problematic,” Dalglish said.
Snow days can also be costly for researchers. They often still have to come in for the day if they are running experiments.
“If classes are cancelled or the campus is closed some people still have to try to find a way to get here, or half a million dollars in research money is gone,” Canty said.
At the University of Maryland, snow days are most common in the spring semester.
Maryland undergoes its coldest temperatures in January. Low temperatures for the state “average in the low to mid 20s,” according to the Maryland Manual On-line, published by the Maryland State Archives.
The state sometimes experiences cold snaps, or periods of unusual cold, due to movements in the Jetstream.
Last month, a hurricane in the Pacific affected the path of the Jetstream, causing it to dip over the eastern United States. Because of this, cold temperatures were carried south, and Maryland experienced a bout of cold weather.
“What was influencing us here in Maryland was what was going on on the other side of the planet,” Canty said.
Cold temperatures are usually not the cause of cancelled classes or delayed starts at the University of Maryland. The average low temperature during the winter months in College Park, Maryland is 27 degrees, according to weatherspark.com. The site gets its data from the College Park Airport weather station.
Classes at the University of Maryland are more likely to be cancelled or delayed due to snow and ice. College Park sees around 17 inches of snow in the winter season, according the university’s department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences..
Resident students, along with anyone traversing the University of Maryland when the sidewalks are icy, are warned to “be especially careful on the north side of buildings, in shaded areas, and around vehicles,” by the University of Maryland Facilities Management on their website.
While snow and ice do not pose much of a threat other than slipping for students who live on campus, they can make commuting extremely dangerous.
Driving on snow and ice leads to accidents, especially for those who aren’t accustomed to the slippery conditions.
Also, if the faculty and commuting students drive to class, maintenance workers cannot clear the parking lots of snow.
“You don’t want anybody showing up because then you can’t get the lots cleared; you can’t get the sidewalks cleared,” Dalglish said.
The university doesn’t just have to look at the snow or ice that has accumulated overnight before making a decision to cancel. If the snow continues during the day, commuters and teachers may get stuck on the roads, or be unable to get home at all.
There are solutions in case of such emergencies – such as setting up cots in Ritchie Coliseum – Rankin said, but situations of this nature are avidly avoided.
The snowfall averages for the state of Maryland are similar to those of College Park. According to the Maryland Manual On-Line, the average snowfall for the state is 20.6 inches.
Snowfall is not consistent across the state. “[Snowfall] ranges from 10 inches on the lower Eastern Shore to 110 inches in Garrett County,” the site said.
Garrett County, Maryland, is the westernmost part of the state, which sees high amounts of snowfall due to the mountains in that region.
One university in that area is Garrett College, a two-year college. It has an inclement weather policy in place, with procedures for both delayed starts and closings.
The policy for delayed openings, found on the college’s website, states, “While the campus is closed, students, faculty, and staff members will not be allowed on campus more than 30 minutes prior to the announced opening time.”
Each year Garrett College has approximately six delayed openings, between three and four early closings, and around four total closings, according to Kevin Dodge, the director of the natural resources and wildlife program at the school.
“I think we close more often than we used to,” Dodge wrote in an email.
Other schools are more reluctant to cancel in the face of snow and ice.
The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor cancelled classes Jan. 28 due to low temperatures. The wind chill readings for the day were estimated to reach below 30 degrees.
The last time the University of Michigan cancelled classes was in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. The university had not cancelled classes for weather related reasons since 1978.
“It is the policy of the University to remain open at all times in order to maintain our commitment to the community by providing services to students, patients and to the public,” the University of Michigan’s Emergency Reductions in Operations Policy states on their website.
Schools in the north – such as the University of Michigan – expect heavy snow in the winter, and therefore are less likely to cancel classes. These schools are adequately equipped to handle snow and ice.
Schools in the south are much less prepared.
“Snow flurries cancel afternoon classes,” stated a headline found in The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s student-run newspaper.
The University of Georgia’s Vice President for Public Affairs Tom Jackson estimated that the school closes two or three days a year due to weather.
The state of Georgia sees the most snowfall and coldest winter temperatures in the Appalachian Mountains, located in the northeast corner of the state. There, low winter temperatures average in the 20s and the seasonal snowfall is between 4 and 6 inches, according to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office.
Because the state of Georgia sees so little snow each year, their resources for dealing with such weather are much fewer than those in states to the north.
“We close if the roads are icy, because local governments in Georgia generally do not find it cost-effective to maintain major snow and ice removal equipment,” Jackson said in an email.
Instead of working to clear the roads with plows or salt, the university typically waits for the ice to thaw on its own.
While the University of Georgia does not encounter significant problems with snow and ice, it faces a threat more rare to Maryland: hurricanes.
Jackson said that the school faces occasional closings in the fall for hurricanes that make their way inland.
While rare for the University of Maryland, it’s not unheard of.
“My first year here, we were hurricaned out for a couple of days,” Dalglish said. “That was pretty nasty.”