By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 6, 2014
As temperatures fell below zero degrees across much of Michigan, University administrators and staff are working to counteract the effects of extreme weather conditions as students return to school for the start of the winter semester.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the campus will not close for the extreme weather and classes will not be canceled on Wednesday.
“Wednesday is the day that is forecast to turn around a bit,” Fitzgerald said. “Because of the campus’ largely residential nature, it is really unusual for the Ann Arbor campus to close because of weather.”
However, Fitzgerald advised students who may be unable to return to campus on Wednesday due to the weather to keep in touch by email with their instructors.
“What we’ve learned in the past is that professors are very much understanding of those situations that are out of the control of students,” he said.
In an e-mail, University Provost Martha Pollack asked faculty to be flexible with first-day attendance and wait-list policies for students experiencing weather-related delays such as flight cancellations and poor road conditions.
“Please take into consideration these unusual circumstances that are beyond our students' control,” Pollack wrote.
Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones sent an e-mail to students Tuesday evening assuring travelers that professors will accommodate students who cannot return to campus in time for their first class sessions.
“Some of you are concerned about missing the first day of class because of weather-related delays in travel,” she wrote. “Students will not be dropped from a class they are unable to attend and will be given any necessary class material when they return to campus.”
Business sophomore Elena Contis was stuck on the Los Angeles International Airport tarmac for two hours before her flight to Detroit took off due to inclement Michigan weather and a water main break at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Tuesday afternoon.
Although she made it to Ann Arbor before classes began, Contis said she would worry about missing course material if her flight was cancelled or delayed. She said that classes should be postponed until the end of the week.
“Regardless of whether or not we get punished for missing classes, we’re still going to miss information,” Contis said. “I don’t care about not getting in trouble; I care about missing potentially important material.”
Contis was one of many students to face delays before returning to Michigan, although others faced canceled flights at airports across the country.
LSA freshman Spencer Hagler was one of these students, waiting for six hours at New York’s LaGuardia Airport before learning his flight was canceled. He was supposed to leave Monday evening, and will now fly to Detroit Wednesday morning if weather permits.
Though his first class isn’t until the early afternoon on Wednesday, Hagler said returning to Ann Arbor on time will also depend on road conditions and cab service.
“It should be okay,” he said. “But who knows what else will go wrong?”
The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill warning that will remain in affect until 7 a.m. Wednesday. With the wind chill factored in, temperatures are expected to drop to 35 degrees below zero Monday night and into Tuesday morning.
The National Weather Service said this weather event is likely the coldest air to hit southeast Michigan in twenty years.
Atmospheric Science Prof. Perry Samson, who teaches a course on extreme weather, said the extreme cold is part of a natural fluctuation.
Samson said the polar jet stream, which is “a ribbon of high-speed air that circumnavigates the Arctic region” has developed a wave reaching into North America, causing cold air to be driven farther south.
“Such undulations can happen anywhere over there northern hemisphere in our winter but, fortunately, don’t usually become this pronounced,” Samson said.
The last time the University canceled class due to weather was in 1978 when 19 inches of snow covered Ann Arbor.
University Housing sent out a travel alert to students, advising them to postpone travel back to Ann Arbor until Tuesday, when the “severe winter weather” is expected to ease. Still, Housing opened campus dormitories and facilities Monday, dispatching staff to shovel snow off the walkways, work the dining halls and let new students move in and complete their paperwork.
Peter Logan, University Housing spokesman, said the e-mail was sent so returning students would “consider the possibility of postponing their travels” in order to avoid the “treacherous conditions.”
Logan referenced a pipe break in the East Quadrangle dormitory that resulted in minor flooding early Sunday. Maintenance staff was unsure whether or not the issue was a result of the weather.
In a statement, Rich Robben, executive director of Plant Operations, said maintenance crews are addressing building issues as they become aware of them. He also said crews will complete building sweeps to scope out problems such as frozen pipes or heating issues.
The University of Michigan Health System has committed to remaining open despite weather conditions. Officials said in an e-mail that the hospital plans to provide transport for essential staff and cots and food for staff that serve extra hours during the storm and following cold weather conditions.
UM-Flint will remain closed Wednesday, while UM-Dearborn will resume classes as scheduled.
Though the University’s semester does not begin until Wednesday, other area institutions with Monday start dates were forced to cancel classes Monday and Tuesday in light of snow and chilling temperatures.
Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University and Grand Valley State University cancelled classes Monday due to extreme weather conditions. Both EMU and GVSU have canceled Tuesday classes and MSU canceled classes Tuesday through 5 p.m.