Snowstorm slams Duke

As the University activated its severe weather and emergency policy Saturday morning, many students enjoyed the unusual snow by building snowmen and other wintry activities.
As the University activated its severe weather and emergency policy Saturday morning, many students enjoyed the unusual snow by building snowmen and other wintry activities.

A burst of uncharacteristically cold weather blanketed Duke and the surrounding area Friday with 6 inches of snow, turning the Gothic Wonderland into a winter wonderland.

With substantial snowfall a rare occurrence in the area, both the University and the city of Durham have taken measures to respond to the severe weather.

“I mean, there’s not a lot we can do—we were ready with crews to clean as fast as we could, but it’s very difficult to clean because of ice pellets on top of the snow,” Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said Sunday. “Here in Durham we can go five years without a drop of snow so preparation is really on a per-storm basis rather than preparing for a season.”

Moneta said there were ice melters ready in every residence hall, and residence coordinators were responsible for sweeping and shoveling their dorms’ entrances. He added that crews have been out each day this weekend starting at 5 a.m. to clear snow from stairwells and “major arteries,” following a well-developed priority map Duke has for such situations.

“It was helpful that it was Saturday morning when people weren’t running to class,” he said. “It will be more difficult the next couple of days.”

The University’s severe weather & emergency conditions policy affecting University employees and services went into effect at 7 a.m. Saturday morning and remained active through 7 p.m. Sunday evening.

In addition, many campus eateries either closed early or shut down through the weekend, and buses ran on condensed schedules due to the icy conditions.

Moneta said he sent a blast e-mail to the student body early Friday afternoon regarding the University’s preparations for the storm and cited technical difficulties when he was told students did not receive the e-mail as planned.

“This is really distressing because we sent a long e-mail that summarized all our preparations, including transportation and dining preparation,” he said. “We spent all day Friday doing what we could for the storm.”

The city of Durham began its preparations for the storm early, with crews from the Public Works Department out spreading de-icing brine on high-traffic streets starting last Wednesday.

The salt-brine mixture, a combination of water and salt, is intended to coat the streets before snowfall and prevent snow from sticking, Durham Public Affairs Manager Beverly Thompson said Sunday.

“We were well-prepared for [the storm]—we had about 25 trucks out at one time clearing and salting the streets, working on 12-hour shifts [throughout the weekend] and just doing what was necessary,” she added. “We don’t wait until the last minute, until [the storm] hits. We need to make sure our crews are prepared in terms of equipment.”

Thompson said she thinks the city’s preparations were effective and there were no major problems from the snowstorm.

“I think overall they’ve done a good job,” she said. “Actually I think we were kind of lucky this year in that with this last weather even we didn’t have any power outages that lasted a significant amount of time, we didn’t have wind, didn’t have freezing rain—so it was a combination of good preparation and good luck.”

Lt. Jerry Yount, Durham Police Department watch commander over the weekend, said the snow did not cause many incidents or alarm.

He added that there was one accident with an ambulance that was transporting a patient, but there were no resulting injuries and they were able to safely transfer the patient to another ambulance.

“Pretty much I think people heeded the warnings of the news and stayed at home and off the roads—we didn’t have any serious accidents, and we didn’t have a lot of accidents at all,” he said. “So not much excitement.”

The city also streamed live feeds from 15 traffic cameras throughout the weekend on its Web site and local television channel, where residents could check road conditions for several major thoroughfares.

But Thompson said Sunday that although the roads looked good at the time with the help of the sun, the roads would probably refreeze with the drop in temperature at night, and people should still be extremely careful when driving.


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