Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, June 24, 2017

‘Snowmageddon’ bombards AU

‘Snowmageddon’ bombards AU

The record-breaking, two-punch snowfall that blanketed campus last week forced AU to house staff nearby or on campus. Classes after noon on Friday, Feb. 5 were canceled as were classes from Monday to Thursday, though the university was open Friday.

“Life-threatening blizzard conditions” developed in the D.C. area Wednesday morning for the second time in a week,” The Washington Post reported. The federal government was closed for four straight days, though it did open Friday. Snowfall had turned many two-lane streets into one-lane roads and large avenues were similarly pinched, leading to what some commuters deemed the “commute from hell.”

On average, D.C. gets about 16 inches of snowfall a year, but the last two storms surpassed that, helping make this winter the snowiest since records of snowfall were accurately kept, the Post reported.

Snow accumulations were high enough to topple part of the recently-installed canopy on the bridge between the Mary Graydon Center and the Butler Pavilion.

Some trees on campus, weighed down by the snow, fell down or had their branches snapped off. This was especially evident in the Letts-Anderson Quad, where approximately half the trees sustained damage.

Most of the public transportation system was shut down for much of the week. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority buses stopped running the day immediately after the first storm and the Metrorail was running along underground routes only, according to WMATA. The Metro also closed at midnight during the weekend, as opposed to 3 a.m. like normal, a boon to cab drivers but a bane to bar-bound students hoping to avoid a cab fare.

The Metrorail system can operate in snowfall of less than eight inches, according to WMATA. If the snow exceeds eight inches, it covers the electrified third rail which provides the necessary power to move the trains.

The AU shuttle did not operate while the snowfall was at its heaviest. Shuttle buses operated on Monday and Tuesday on a limited schedule between the Tenley and Main Campuses only. On Wednesday, the shuttle stopped operating once again with the new snowfall.

Some AU staff was housed on Tenley Campus, others in the Holiday Inn on Wisconsin Avenue, according to Chief Michael McNair, director of Public Safety. Public Safety officers and dispatchers were housed on Tenley Campus, McNair said.

Public Safety found alternative methods to patrol campus, since their T-3 motion vehicles do not function in the snow.

“Public Safety has two vehicles capable of operating in the snow,” McNair said. “And most of the buildings were patrolled on foot as the entrances were cleared.”

Zachary Knowles, a junior in the School of International Service, said D.C. reacts poorly to snow and does a terrible job of dealing with it.

“D.C. should be ashamed at their lack of preparedness for situations like this,” he said. “I just spent three months in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the poorest country in the former Soviet Union, and they were able to better deal with snow than Washington, D.C.”

While roads are mostly clear, the snow-lined streets still present a problem for pedestrians and motorists. Some have questioned Mayor Adrian Fenty’s response to the snowstorm and the speed of the District’s response.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball,” said the city’s handling of the crisis was subpar.

“I keep thinking, snow is predictable. We know it’s coming,” he said on his program Feb. 10. “It came last week. It came this week ... You see no planning; I see no planning.”

His sentiments were echoed by others, but some defended the city’s response, including Mike “Loose Lips” DeBonis, the D.C. administration columnist for the Washington City Paper.

“Listen, Chris. You’re going to slam our local leadership for failing to clear the streets from the biggest snowstorm in 88 years within 48 hours. Fine,” he wrote. “Then [Loose Lips] would like to see you and your Montgomery County neighbors start to pay tax on the income you’re earning here in the District. Then you get to bitch all you want. ‘Cause that money would buy some serious snowplows.”

More snow is expected this afternoon, but forecasts predict three inches or less, according to the Capital Weather Gang.

You can reach these writers at news@theeagleonline.com.