UMBC and Inclement Weather

During my tenure at UMBC, I have come to notice that UMBC seldom closes or delays campus opening during inclement weather. Surrounding campuses such as CCBC (literally next door) and Towson will be closed while UMBC remains open. I am still on the UMD alert system and even they close well before UMBC – and they’re 30 miles south where snow seldom lays. This is inexcusable and dangerous behavior on UMBC’s part, particularly given their large commuter population.

I can immediately think of three distinct days UMBC should have at least opened with a delay and failed to do so. Once was in 2010 following a snow storm – the surrounding local roads were still covered with snow & ice, but UMBC remained open during exam week. I feel the correct course of action would have been to remain open in these extenuating circumstances but to offer a free pass for a makeup exam for those unwilling or unable to make it to campus. This winter semester, there were several mild snows. One resulted in treacherous road conditions and came with advance notice; CCBC notified their students they were opening with a two hour delay, UMBC did nothing. That morning, I drove to UMBC and was nearly rear ended twice, but thankfully did not have any incidents. The parking lot and the sidewalks at UMBC were covered in snow and made just the walk to class dangerous, yet UMBC remained open. Unfortunately one of my classmates was not so lucky and he was involved in a collision on I-695 during his commute to school. This is an all too real example of the consequences felt by students when UMBC throws caution to the wind.

The third example occurred yesterday and is the subject of this post. Maryland experienced an unusual snow storm late in the season, but both Weather Underground and The Weather Channel forecast significant snowfall, with The Weather Channel calling for 6-10″ during the day. Even NOAA, traditionally conservative, forecast 2-5″ for the area in total. By 3:30 AM yesterday morning it had begun to snow and the snow was laying on the ground. I set my alarm for 5:15 AM to wake up for work, looked outside, and saw at least 3″ of snow on the ground with moderate snow continuing to fall. With that much snow so early and with a forecast calling for it to continue throughout the day, I thought UMBC would at least open with a delay.

A couple weeks ago, the area was burnt by a similar storm. The Weather Channel was calling for up to 18″ of snow at one point, but it never materialized. My house did see up to 6″ of snow but it quickly melted away as the temperature rose above freezing. UMBC, along with every other Baltimore area business and school, closed for what turned out to be nothing more than a rain storm. The roads were fantastic all the way into Pennsylvania. Because of this, businesses and schools were understandably reluctant to close for round two.

Moving back to yesterday, most waited to call in a delay, but even CCBC gave notice of two hour delay by 6 AM and Carroll County schools were closed. UMBC failed to send a notice at all, neither acknowledging they would remain open nor sending out a delay. I have an 8:30 AM history class so I fired up my car, cleaned it off, and attempted to leave for the morning despite the danger. I reached the end of my driveway and found the public road, a designated snow route, untouched; it was not salted or plowed at all. I made the choice to stay home but my car would not reverse up the driveway. Initially I was going to turn around in the road, but a car came sliding sideways down the road towards me so I didn’t feel it would be a wise to pull into the road and risk getting stuck, and subsequently hit by another sliding car. Thankfully the first snowplow of the morning came by and cleared the road well enough to turn around.

After I returned home, I snapped a picture of the current snowfall outside.UMBC Snow on March 25 2013

That picture was at about 6:50 AM while UMBC was still open with absolutely no mention of a delay! At this point, students started to become upset by UMBC’s lack of action and posted a thread on the MyUMBC discussion board.

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

Discussion on MyUMBC Message Boards

Clearly UMBC’s decision to remain open was unpopular by 7 AM. At 8:28 AM, I was notified that UMBC was closed effective 8:30 AM. Had I driven in that morning, I would have wasted my time, money, and gas only to have my class cancelled. Then there would be the decision of where to go from there because I cannot teleport to my work or home (although that would be cool!). Obviously I was not the only one upset about this debacle.

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

MyUMBC Snow Discussion

Then at  “Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 11:47 AM” according to the time stamp, UMBC sent out an apology regarding the timing of the closure. The apology was necessary, but the timing of the apology was a bit tardy and likely in response to uproar generated by the students and professors UMBC had needlessly drive out to campus in downright terrible weather conditions.

UMBC Snow Apology

UMBC Snow Apology

The best part is “We based our initial decision to open campus on the best forecasts available early this morning, and unfortunately, conditions continued to change throughout the morning. ” “Best forecasts available!?” I guess they missed the part where they could look out a window. My history professor (who had just arrived from the airport in time for class), several students, and a guest lecturer (who drove in from Frederick) all made it to class just in time to be notified by UMBC that they needed to return home.

An appropriate weather policy would have UMBC err on the side of caution and call two hour delays when necessary. This gives them time to evaluate conditions make the final call to close campus if needed. With the large student commuter population at the university, UMBC should be the first to close, not the last. I sincerely hope, for the sake of the students, that these situations do not arise again.