Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter weather-related facts

Over the course of the past 30-plus hours, the university has received extensive feedback via email, telephone and social media regarding the decisions on whether to hold classes yesterday and today. That feedback has ranged from strong disapproval to appreciation that classes went on as scheduled. 

The purpose of this message is to share facts.

First, facts about the weather conditions experienced in our region in recent weeks: As every  Blugold — and every Midwesterner —knows all too well, it's been an abnormally cold month. Here are the January facts from the National Weather Service Twin Cities weather forecast office (all temperatures are Farenheit):
  • 19 of 28 days have had below-zero temperatures.
  • 13 of 28 days have had double-digit below-zero temperatures, including today.
  •  Of the 13 double-digit, below-zero days, 11 have occurred during Winterim and spring semester instructional days.
  •  Every instructional day of spring semester has had below-zero temperatures with double-digit, below-zero temperatures five of the six days, including today.
Second, facts about other UW System campuses that closed or remained open yesterday and today: In addition to UW-Eau Claire (with the exception of Monday classes that started at 5 p.m. or later), the following UW System four-year campuses held classes on Monday and Tuesday:
  • UW-Green Bay
  • UW-La Crosse
  • UW Oshkosh
  • UW-River Falls
  • UW-Stevens Point
  • UW-Stout
  • UW-Whitewater
Third, facts about how the decision whether to cancel classes is made at UW-Eau Claire:  The university takes several factors into account when making a determination about cancelling classes. Those include (in no particular order):
  • Air temperature and sustained wind chill
  • Whether there is heavy snowfall and/or icy conditions
  • Road and sidewalk conditions leading to campus (ice covered or snow covered)
  • Campus road, sidewalk and parking lot conditions (Are they clear and ready for classes?)
  • Visibility issues caused by falling or blowing snow or fog
  • Whether conditions are improving or worsening
  • Other factors that may be present
A number of people are consulted before making a decision whether to cancel classes. UW-Eau Claire staff are in touch with local safety officials to assess the factors above. The past two mornings, a member of the facilities staff personally surveyed area roads to see if drifting snow was an issue. Monday evening classes were cancelled due to dropping temperatures and an increase in expected winds. Generally, it is less safe to travel (drive, ride or walk) in the darkness because of reduced visibility. People in trouble are less likely to be seen and helped.

We take student safety seriously; it is our primary concern. In the case of the weather Monday and Tuesday, it was the judgment of the university that it was possible for students to properly prepare themselves for the cold.

We know that there are students who have underlying health concerns and that some have unreliable transportation, making travel unwise. Therefore, we ask students to make a judgment about their own circumstances and their ability to come to campus safely.