Snow accumulation forces University to cancel classes

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Mark Hammontree

UPDATED: “Snow, ice shut down Alabama”

Although snow was falling on campus at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had declared a state of emergency at 6 a.m., The University of Alabama did not cancel classes until 10:30 a.m. Tuesday afternoon, the University also canceled classes on Wednesday.

As students and faculty began to try to leave campus, snow continued to fall, and roads around campus became slick. The main roads out of campus and around Tuscaloosa became densely congested with traffic. The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s department began to report accumulation on roadways around 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, and by 9:15 a.m. tweeted that approximately 90 accidents had already been reported in Tuscaloosa County.

Kyle Borland, a junior majoring in public relations, experienced heavy traffic on his way to his 9:30 a.m. class and expected more when he heard classes had been cancelled and was dismissed by his professor.

“I got right in my car – I would have gone and played on the Quad, but I have summer tires on my car because it’s Alabama, and you don’t really need winter tires. So I was like, I want to get going before everybody gets on the road, and I left at 10:30, and it still took me until about 11:45 to get to University Village, which is like a mile and a half down 10th Avenue,” Borland said. “Just to get away from Bryant-Denny took me about an hour because I was going down Campus Drive from the West Commuter lot right next to Bryant-Denny, and they blocked off turning left there, and then they had blocked off a bunch of other roads, so traffic literally just sat there.”

Borland said cars were skidding all over the road as students and faculty attempted to exit campus and snow continued to fall.

“My car skidded almost entirely off the road at least once,” Borland said. “I saw five or six car accidents right around the Strip area before I got on 15th.”

Cathy Andreen, UA director of media relations, said students were notified of the possibility of winter weather and advised to pay attention to road conditions in a campuswide email sent out Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

“Any time severe weather is possible – and because weather conditions can change rapidly – the University strongly encourages each person to monitor weather updates from the National Weather Service and local media sources and to refer to safety tips and weather information posted at prepare.ua.edu,” Andreen said Tuesday afternoon in an emailed statement.

Andreen advised students to consult road conditions online before traveling outside of their homes.

“UA also reminds persons traveling outside the UA campus to check the Alabama Department of Transportation website at alitsweb.dot.state.al.us/RoadConditions for road conditions to their destination, so they can make good decisions based on their personal situation,” Andreen said. “During times of severe weather, faculty are asked to work with students who may have problems getting to campus because of dangerous driving conditions.”

Andreen said the University’s emergency preparedness group is in charge of making timely decisions about suspending or delaying classes and monitors weather reports from the National Weather Service and local and state EMA offices when making decisions.

“The National Weather Service updated its predictions for the Tuscaloosa area Tuesday morning and, because of rapidly changing conditions, the emergency preparedness group, who had already convened, decided to cancel classes for the remainder of the day,” Andreen said. “With necessary precautions already in place, UA announced the cancellation to the campus at 10:30 a.m.”

Borland said the University risked the safety of students by holding morning classes that brought many students and faculty to campus who would later attempt to leave campus all at once on icy roads.

“I think it was really irresponsible of the University, just in general, and I would cut them a little bit of slack if this was the first time they’d ever done something like this, made the wrong call, but every single time there is snow that’s supposed to happen, they never make the call,” Borland said.

Borland said the University could have chosen to delay classes until they knew if the weather would be bad.

“Then they would have gotten the result that they ended up getting anyway with classes getting canceled, but because they were so irresponsible and because of their bad decision making, they are costing people money and putting their students at risk,” Borland said.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Bentley held a short press conference about the state of emergency for Alabama.

Bentley said traffic in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham was still extremely slow and congested, and that the areas along and below the I-20 corridor were suffering the most from icy conditions.

Bentley said he has activated 350 National Guardsmen to help emergency responders in the areas of the state most affected. Bentley also urged people to stay at home until conditions improve, which he said could take as long as Thursday.

The City of Tuscaloosa has also made wrecker services available to anyone stranded or out of gas.