What to expect when it snows at Western

We had our first dusting of the snow this morning (Nov. 7), so it is the perfect time to review what happens at Western when the campus is on the receiving end of a significant snow event. Regardless of who you are or what you do, severe winter weather is rare enough in Bellingham to cause a lot of uncertainty and questions before and during an event.

As a winter storm approaches, WWU's Facilities Management spends a lot of time monitoring various weather forecasts as it tries to put together an educated assessment about how the storm will impact the campus. The university is aware of the fact that employees and students commute from a variety of locations in Whatcom and Skagit counties, but it also has to make sure the 4,000 or so students who live on campus have continued access to dining services and other key facilities.

Above all, SAFETY is the top priority. Some of the questions that have to be considered are: Is the campus reasonably safe for students and staff to navigate, albeit under winter conditions? Can the Facilities Management crews reasonably expect to keep up with the conditions expected (i.e. snow, ice, freezing conditions)? Is there enough time to clear sidewalks and parking areas before everyone gets to campus? Is WTA still running? What are conditions like for WWU's commuters outside of Bellingham? All of these go into the decisions around how to respond to the storm, and while "open as normal" or a delayed opening are the most common responses, the university does occasionally cancel classes altogether.

What is the Process for Snow Removal & University Status Messaging?

The day before a storm:

❄ If the prognosis is for freezing temperatures and icy conditions, the Grounds Maintenance staff will pre-treat key areas with ice melt to mitigate the expected iciness.

❄ If the forecast is nearly certain for snow during the night, FM will direct certain staff to come in early the next day to start snow removal.

❄ During the night, the University Police Department monitors conditions and asks for call-outs if needed.

The day of a storm:

❄ The Outdoor Maintenance Supervisor and Facilities Management Director arrive on campus between three and five a.m.

❄ Based on current ice and snow conditions as well as the weather forecasts, the FM Director recommends to the Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs (VPBFA) a course of action – whether to remain open, to be closed, or to have a delayed opening. The VPBFA makes a recommendation to the President, who then makes a final decision. Our goal is to have a status message out by 6 a.m.

❄ Throughout the day, conditions are monitored in case there is a need to change the status of the university. Campus members who encounter what they consider unsafe conditions are encouraged to report the location and description to Facilities Management Work Control at extension 3420.

❄ Human Resources will issue time keeping guidance to campus based on the particular operating status.

Other considerations:

Even if campus is open during snowy weather, campus conditions are not likely to be what everyone would consider “normal."

The Outdoor Maintenance crew will focus on accessible routes between residence halls and dining halls, accessible routes to and from academic buildings, and access to handicapped entrances. That means that individual short-cuts and secondary pathways may not be cleared unless or until the work load permits.

Snow Removal Fast Facts 

❄ The snow removal team consists of the 18-person Outdoor Maintenance Shop crew, plus a volunteer team of custodians, plus anyone designated as essential personnel.

❄ The snow removal team consists of the 18-person Outdoor Maintenance Shop, plus a volunteer team of custodians, plus anyone designated as essential personnel.

❄ Roughly 4 miles of streets and roads, 59 acres of parking lots, and 5.5 miles of sidewalks require snow removal and traction treatment….not to mention the dozens of stairs and building entrances which must be cleared.

What Else Should You Know?

Leading up to the winter season Facilities Management stays in touch with the Disability Access Center to know where WWU's ADA efforts may need to be focused. Now that more activities are allowed on campus, FM will also make contact with organizers of special events to determine what actions may be needed to keep those events running. Western stresses, and this is important: Individuals must make their own decisions on whether to travel to Western during bad weather based on a specific assessment of their own safety and circumstances.

Monday, November 7, 2022 - 9:48am
Snow is piled up on either side of the steps up to Old Main