Behind the scenes of the much-anticipated snow day alerts

Photo Illustration, Bryan Calabro/ The Beacon

Kristina Seiger, Correspondent

Attending a university in Northeast Pennsylvania almost guarantees some troublesome weather during the winter and snow days come with the territory.
When the weather turns dismal with heavy snows and icy conditions, the safety of faculty and students is taken into consideration when deciding on snow days. In the spring semester of 2011 there were eight days that inclement weather affected school days. Four of those were totally canceled days, which was the most days off in at least 14 years.
Some students, and even faculty, wait for the incoming texts, television school closing crawl, or the inclement weather hot line to let them know if the conditions are dangerous enough to delay or close the school. But how many people know the process behind the decision?
There is one man who ultimately decides what will happen when snow is in the forecast. One man who holds the opportunity to gain a couple extra hours of sleep. He is Dr. Paul Adams, Vice President of Student Affairs.
Adams does not have a crystal ball, or a snow globe as the case may be, that determines the weather. He actually decides the same way that normal people do. He consults AccuWeather.
AccuWeather gathers their weather data from the State College area and local news stations also use the information to inform people of the weather.
Adams usually gets updates from the system that lets him know what to expect from oncoming storms. When a storm is predicted he wakes up at 4 a.m. to check one final time before a decision to close or delay the school is made.
“Timing is everything,” Adams said about when and how much snow is predicted to fall.
If the snow happens early enough, local road crews can clear the roads before conditions get too bad.
“We don’t make the decision frivolously. A lot does get taken into account before hand,” Adams said.
In addition to thinking about the Wilkes campus, Adams collaborates with both King’s College and Misericordia University on the decision.
Some students are dual enrolled in a couple of the local colleges so it is a courtesy that the leaders take into account when deciding what to do on snow days. Instead of one school being opened while another is closed, they try to make a unanimous decision. In some cases one school may call a snow day when the others do not; it is up to the individual school.
An example of this independent decision happened not with a snow day, but with the flood. When the flood of 2011 affected Wilkes-Barre, all the local colleges shut down, but Wilkes University decided to stay closed for an additional day.
This intercollegiate decision usually happens at around 6 a.m. and then the rest of the university population is informed.
Faculty, students and the maintenance staff are all informed of the decision at the same time through the local news stations, text messages or the Wilkes portal. No one is informed of the decision beforehand.
The maintenance staff has a meeting to discuss how to handle a snowfall if a heavy storm is predicted.
Bill Marino, a maintenance employee, said that they receive text messages like everyone else if there is a closing or delay. They have their priorities if it is closed. The maintenance staff will clear the way to the more heavily visited areas on campus, mainly the library and the cafeteria.
Mike Rob, a cafeteria employee, said that the amount of students who linger in the cafeteria actually increases on snow days. “They usually come in and stay for longer just hanging out, and eating,” Rob said.
Faculty also has to rearrange their schedules due to snow days. Missed days mean syllabuses need to be revised and missed class time.
“It seems that 50 percent of the times, snow days fall on test days,” Dr. Jane Elmes-Crahall, a communication studies professor, said. “If class is canceled, or even if it is a compressed schedule time is still lost.”
When a compressed schedule is arranged, classes start at 10 a.m. and classes are shortened to either 40 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or 50 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“With a compressed schedule you barely have time to introduce a new topic and then class is over,” Elmes-Crahall said.
The question was raised that since many of the students live either on campus or within walking distance, why should the university close when so many students could make it to school?
“We have to take into consideration that faculty and commuters have to be on the roads. We take people’s safety in account first,” Adams said.
“If I don’t think the roads are safe enough and there’s still school, I won’t risk it,” Alex Kijek, an undeclared freshman, said. “I know that when I get a job we won’t have snow days, so I’m going to enjoy them while I have them.”
Faculty may not have to go into work when there are snow days, but they still have to do work.
“I usually grade papers and tests. Then I have to shovel and clean up my property,” Elmes-Crahall said.
“I still come to campus to make sure everything is alright and running smoothly. I never actually get to enjoy a snow day,” Adams said.
“A snow day really makes no difference to us, we still have to come to work to make sure the students have food to eat,” Rob said.
While some people may use their snow days productively, others use it as a time to catch up on sleep.
“I usually check my phone for the text messages. Then I go back to sleep,”
Kijek said.
To receive up-to-date changes in the schedule due to snow days or other inclement events sign up for the Wilkes notification text messages. Checking the Wilkes homepage and also the web portal are other official ways to see if there are new developments. Also calling the SNOW hot line at 570-408-SNOW (7669) will provide a recorded message informing the caller about any changes to the schedule.