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Like weather, snow days unpredictable

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In the past 90 years, Notre Dame has closed the campus due to severe winter weather conditions only eight times – and the decision about whether to cancel classes can be as unpredictable as South Bend weather patterns.

Vice President of Business Operations James Lyphout, who plays a central role in the decision to cancel classes due to inclement weather, said there is no criteria or policy used to decide when to call snow days.

“There’s no set amount of snow or specific temperature. Each situation is evaluated on its own circumstances. There are no specific parameters for which we would cancel classes,” he said.

Lyphout also said the decision to close campus due to weather is not dependent on what other schools and businesses in the area are doing.

“We really make independent evaluations of road and weather conditions,” he said. “We have our own people do assessments of parking lots, roads and the surrounding community in the early morning hours.”

The assessments test whether roads are safely passable and parking lots can be adequately cleared, he said.

Lyphout and Saint Mary’s security director David Gariepy said conditions that have merited canceling classes in the past include very heavy snowfall with high winds that may cause drifting.

Any class canceled due to weather conditions would be rescheduled at the discretion of individual professors, Lyphout said.

Of the eight weather-related closures, five resulted in class cancellations.

The last campus closure occurred in December 2000 during final exams week. According to Vice President of News and Information Dennis Brown, exams were rescheduled during the evenings of the three remaining exam days.

Since Saint Mary’s is a residential campus, snow days are rare, Gariepy said. He could not say how many snow days have occurred in the College’s history, but remembered only one in the past 17 years.

“Most students are residents on campus, so for the most part students are here,” he said. “The decision basically comes down to watching weather conditions and road conditions as well as recommendations made by local government entities.”

In contrast, Indiana University-South Bend has cancelled classes three times this semester due to weather conditions, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Gariepy also said that if roads in the College’s vicinity remain open, Saint Mary’s usually bases its decisions on whether Notre Dame decides to close.

If the University were to cancel class, Lyphout said, the decision would be a collaboration between him, Provost Tom Burish and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves.

The campuses would be notified about canceled classes and closures through e-mails and voicemails, Lyphout and Gariepy said.

University snow-clearing operations are crucial in keeping campus roads and walkways open.

Bill Thistlethwaite, superintendent of Notre Dame’s Landscape Services Department, said that while snow-clearing technologies have improved over the years, most of the machinery has remained the same.

“The [technologies] have just gotten more efficient … and we have better pieces of machinery, but in the end a plow is a plow,” Thistlethwaite said. “We’ve also introduced brooms and an environmentally safe liquid in the last 10 to 12 years.”

The liquid helps prevent ice from building up on the campus walkways.

Other equipment used includes Bobcat machines with buckets, pick-up trucks with plows and small dump trucks with plows.

Thistlethwaite said weather-related closures sometimes depend on whether his crews can keep up with the snow and ice.

“This winter has been really unusual with torrential downpours of rain and big spikes in temperatures,” he said. “We get rains, and then the temperature will fall and ice everything up at night which has made it really difficult.”

Thistlethwaite said more employees have worked this winter in order to keep up with the weather conditions.

“The way we run our crews has changed a lot to make [plowing] more efficient,” he said.

It takes about 23 people from the University’s Landscape Services crew to clear snowy paths each night, including four people on the night shift and three people on the early morning shift.

Thistlethwaite said the walks and campus roads are first priority for clearing snow, followed by faculty, staff and commuting-student parking lots. Other student lots are the Landscape Services’ last priority.