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Winter creates roadblocks for commuters

November 14, 2013

A UW-River Falls’ commuter student driving through snow and ice to make it to school is not a rare occurrence.

According to the National Weather Service website, Dec. 10, 2010, nearly the entire state of Wisconsin received 16 to 23 inches of snow. Twenty-three inches was measured in the southwest region of the state. UWRF did not close school.

“I do believe the December 2010 decision was made by the Governor and not even the campus,” Executive Director of Facilities Planning and Management Mike Stifter said, in regard to why UWRF did not cancel classes.

The National Weather Service also archived the Feb. 1, 2011, heavy snowfall. Much of the southern portion of the state received eight to 24 inches of snow. UWRF did not cancel classes then either.

“It was not closed during either of the two storms,” said Joe McIntosh, who takes care of ground maintenance on campus.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website, winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. In the last five years, Wisconsin has averaged 50,000 motor vehicle crashes during winter months. An average of 45 people are killed and more than 5,000 injured on icy or snow-covered roads.

“I have worked here for nearly 15 years and do not recall a time when classes were cancelled due to snow,” McIntosh said.

Many UWRF students are commuters. In a 2005 survey, conducted by the UWRF Survey Research Center, it was documented that over 90 percent of commuter students have less than a 20-minute commute.

“The weather has to be particularly bothersome for me to stay home due to weather,” UWRF commuter student Mike Rice said. “Otherwise, I’ll schedule extra time in the morning, so that I can just take it slow and get to school on time, even if it takes an extra half hour or so.”

UWRF does have a policy in place in case of bad weather conditions, called the Inclement Weather Practice (AP-01-202). It was put into effect in Nov. 2, 1998, and was recently revised Dec. 10, 2012.

The policy states that in the event of weather emergencies, the Chancellor or designee may cancel classes and close the campus to the public or direct all non-emergency employees to leave work early or not to report to work.

“When the city plowing truck pushes the snow in the street to my driveway, I find it very challenging to diminish that barricade and drive to campus to teach,” said Professor of History Zhiguo Yang, who lives in River Falls. “Often times I simply abandon the effort and walk to campus.”

The policy also states that in the event that classes have been delayed or cancelled that University Communications will notify local and Twin Cities news media, and send communications to the campus via the campus emergency notification system, the University website, and University managed social media channels.

“We cancelled evening classes at the Hudson Center on April 18, of this year due to hazardous road conditions on I-94 and Hwy 35,” said Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry.

If inclement weather were inevitable, UWRF states it is unrealistic to close a campus due to a variety of services that are necessary to maintain the university. If weather is severe enough, classes have the possibility to be cancelled and campus can close to the pubic.

UWRF expects all students and faculty to make an earnest effort to report to work and school in the event of bad weather, but asks students and faculty to use personal discretion and to be prepared.

Governor Scott Walker recently declared Nov. 4, through Nov. 8, Winter Awareness Week in Wisconsin. The importance of Winter Awareness Week is to remind people to be prepared people for winter conditions that could potentially threaten their safety, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website.

Students can protect themselves from the threat of winter weather by winterizing their cars with an emergency kit. Blankets, extra winter clothing, non-perishable food, water, cell phone chargers and flashlights are just a few items contained in an appropriate winter emergency kit.

For additional information on winter weather awareness, driving tips and emergency kits can be found at the Ready Wisconsin website, readywisconsin.wi.gov.