Who makes a snow day? A look inside the details behind the decision
By JULIA DAVIS
When snow is in the forecast, the University of Mary Washington campus buzzes with excited students, all hoping that they will get the coveted email from Director of Media and Public Relations Marty Morrison, UMW’s unofficial “snow day lady.”
In moments of excitement, students send out their snow day wishes, and “Marty Morrison” begins trending on Twitter.
While students are waiting for their snow day savior, the planning for inclement weather, which involves a complex orchestration of university faculty and staff, begins the moment potential snow shows up on the radar.
The planning is dictated by the UMW Inclement Weather Policy. This policy, which is reviewed every three years, defines inclement weather as “all types of weather phenomena such as snow and ice storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, wind storm, flooding, etc.”
University policy is “to proactively plan and prepare for weather events that may affect university operations and to respond to events in an organized manner to ensure the continuation or resumption of normal operations in a timely, efficient and effective manner.”
While Morrison may be famous for her snow day announcement emails, the policy states that the Vice President for Administration and Finance Richard Pearce makes the official call. Pearce said he has developed a decision making process to determine if the University needs to close or alter the normal operating schedule. If snow falls at night, Pearce is up before 5 a.m. to monitor the weather.
“We gauge the current weather and, using forecasts from several sources, attempt to estimate what the weather will be like from then on during the day,” said Pearce.
Pearce consults many other officials while analyzing inclement weather, including the provost, representatives from the Stafford and Dahlgren campuses, the police department and Ruth Lovelace, UMW’s emergency management and safety director, who receives regular updates from the state and federal governments’ emergency weather agencies.
“The safety of our students and the over 1,000 faculty, staff and contractors is our most important priority by far,” said Pearce. “The academic schedule is a distant second.”
Area schools, government offices and universities are also monitored for closures or late openings, as well as the conditions of snow on UMW’s campus and surrounding areas.
Joining Pearce at the crack of dawn is Director of Landscape and Grounds Joni Wilson, who informs Pearce of the snow conditions on campus. If snow does fall, Wilson and the Facilities Services staff are ready to tackle it. According to the policy, Facilities Services is responsible for developing and maintaining a Snow and Ice Management Plan for the university.
“The worse the weather, the more important it is for us to be here,” said Wilson.
Wilson and her staff extensively plan for inclement weather so they can be ready at a moment’s notice. If snow is in the forecast, Wilson’s lengthy to-do list includes staging snow removal equipment, coordinating with in-house staff and parking management, checking supplies such as sand and ice melting chemicals, speaking with local police forces and working with contractors on campus.
“We try as hard as we can to pay attention to as many details as we can,” said Wilson.
Snow removal on campus is prioritized into zones, with the highest priority given to access for emergency vehicles. If there is heavy snowfall in the night, staff work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to ensure campus is safely cleared by the morning.
“There are a lot of small details to take care of, as well as the hard work of standing out there at 3 a.m. with a shovel,” said Wilson.
After all the preparations, every attempt is made to make an inclement weather decision by 6 a.m. When Pearce makes the official call, he passes the torch on to Morrison to inform the UMW community.
“That’s where Ms. Morrison comes in to work her magic,” said Pearce.
Part of Morrison’s “magic” is working with her to team to send out emails to the community, post on the UMW website, contact over 20 television and radio stations from Richmond to Washington to report UMW’s closure, update the information line and post to UMW’s social media accounts.
“I’m pretty much a behind the scenes person,” said Morrison, “but I still get recognized on campus as the ‘snow lady.’”
Despite the work, Morrison insists that she is simply the messenger.
“I might get the credit, but they’re doing all the hard work,” said Morrison.