Storm Was 'Snow' Fun for U.Va. Employees

January 31, 2010 — Again?

Just as the few lingering piles of dirty December snow were about gone, a new winter storm brought nearly a foot of fluffy white stuff to the University of Virginia.

And, as with the Dec. 19 storm, U.Va.'s facilities personnel sprang into action to clear walkways and parking lots in time for classes to resume Monday. (Sorry, students, no snow day. Managers and supervisors are asked to be liberal with those employees with extreme travel issues.)

"This is a much more significant snow event than was predicted," said Donald Sundgren, U.Va.'s chief facilities officer. "Our folks had a plan for a lesser event."

The 3 to 5 inches that were widely forecast Friday turned into more like 10 to 12 inches Saturday. Jerry Stenger, director of the state climatology office at U.Va., put the official snowfall total from McCormick Observatory at 10.5 inches.

Sundgren said Rich Hopkins, landscape superintendent, and Jay Klingel, operations and maintenance director, called in employees Saturday who had been scheduled to work Sunday. Twelve-hour shifts were assigned.

"I think the great response we get from our people says a lot for their dedication and for the way they feel about the University," Sundgren said.

Stenger said he had been anticipating the potential for rather large snow totals. "I was expecting a rather high snow-to-water ratio – at least 12-to-1 instead of the typical 10-to-1 here – so it'll be a 'fluffier' snow," he said. "That seems to have held true for most of the event."

He warned that frigid overnight temperatures and wind chills will still make for hazardous travel on Monday. "The Observatory reported a low Sunday morning of 13 degrees and many locations throughout the area were close to zero," he added.

The area may be in for a repeat next weekend – a seven-day weather pattern is a characteristic of the upper-air arrangement in the mid-latitudes, Stenger said.

"There's a thought we might pick up some more precipitation," he said. "What type is yet to be determined."

By Sunday morning, all major University roads were passable, walks were being cleared, and all major facilities were accessible. "We're hoping the sun and warming temperatures will help a great deal today," Klingel said Sunday. The focus was on making sure students and professors can get into their classrooms and labs on Monday.

On Saturday, Hopkins and a crew of about 50 facilities employees worked to clear main thoroughfares around Grounds and make sure buildings in use by students – residence halls, libraries, dining halls and recreation facilities – were accessible.

Some things went on as planned. The U.Va. swimming and diving team held its meet with the University of Pittsburgh at the Aquatic and Fitness Center (and won). The Rotunda and University Bookstore were closed, but all the libraries and recreation centers were open.

Another 75 people were clearing roads, walkways and parking areas at the Medical Center, which is a priority, Hopkins said. "We need to keep that area clear for visitors, patients and staff," he said.

Marge Sidebottom, director of emergency preparedness, said the widespread cooperation and communication made everything safer and saner.

"As always, my colleagues were superb," she said. "The Health System put out information from their command center and ensured patient care. Dining Services didn't miss a beat, and Parking and Transportation was on top of the routes that were safe to run and also creative in having a 3-to-8 p.m. route so students could get to dining halls."

Many people reported to her office what they were doing, she said. "That gave us an opportunity to stay on top of all things large and small and make sure the communication was across Grounds.

"I'm always proud to work at U.Va., but I'm never prouder than when these different groups come together to ensure safety and security of those who work, visit and live here."

— By Marian Anderfuren