Students waited eagerly for the news Monday. Would school close for the impending snow-tastrophe? Would it? Really?
Oh yeah, it did. And it wasn’t just third-graders eager for sledding or high school students saved from a chemistry test who scored.
In a rare occurrence, Penn State also called off classes on account of Winter Storm Stella.
But there is a big difference between canceling lectures and discussions and closing down.
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“Keep in mind that at University Park, while we may delay or cancel classes, the campus never really closes,” said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powes. “There are 14,000-plus students on campus who require meals and warm lodging, and there are critical research projects that require constant attention, as well as livestock that must be fed, watered and sheltered.”
The university does have a lot of things that really don’t care about the weather. The uranium rods in the 24-foot-deep pool at the Brezeale Nuclear Reactor, for instance, are going to keep radiating come rain or snow or sleet. More than 140 dairy cows are going to need to be milked no matter how deep the snow gets. Bacteria in a petri dish, a reaction in a test tube, a plant growing under a special light — none of that is going to stop and wait for researchers and graduate assistants to come back into a lab when the weather clears.
And there are the people. Penn State houses and feeds a population greater than the combined residents of Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Snow Shoe and Philipsburg every day, but those aren’t the only services that they require. University police still stay on the job. So does the Office of Physical Plant, the men and women that keep all of the buildings and systems up and running.
Other people depend on Penn State, too. If you checked into the Nittany Lion Inn or the Penn Stater before Stella hit town, you are probably hoping you can stay warm and toasty there until it passes.
Let’s not forget that when the snow falls, something has to be done about it.
“Penn State does an admirable job with snow removal, given the following facts: The snow crew consists of more than 250 Penn State employees who take care of 35 miles of road, 60 miles of sidewalk, and 940 on campus buildings using about 155 shovels and 90 vehicles. In fact, there are 540 steps of Eastview Terrace housing complex alone,” Powers said. “The goal is to clear as much of the sidewalks and stairways as possible before classes begin in the morning.”
So closed isn’t really closed. Why is making the call to cancel so hard?
Well, weather can be a little unpredictable. Luckily, Penn State has some resources at hand. The National Research Council rates the university’s meteorology program among the top in the country.
“For this storm, consultation among a large contingent of people and units started several days ago as the storm was approaching, and the forecast will be checked and rechecked multiple times before a decision is made. Decisions for cancellation or delays usually occur by 5 a.m. on the day of the storm. Sometimes the inclement weather only begins at that early hour and we have to make a determination of ongoing conditions,” said Powers.
President Eric Barron makes the final call on cancellation after getting weigh-in from people like the senior vice president for Finance and Business, the assistant VP in charge of police and safety, that meteorology department, the state Department of Transportation, police and surrounding municipalities.
“As always, the safety of our students, faculty and staff comes first and we urge people to use their best judgment when traveling,” Powers said.