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Winter Storm Nemo whips across campus

In the flurry of student excitement over snow this weekend, the cleanup process began

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013

As the winter storm hit campus, students enjoyed the time off from classes Friday through snowball fights, skiing, snowboarding and sledding on trays from the dining halls.

Winter Storm Nemo dwindled to a close Saturday afternoon after covering Providence in about a foot and a half of snow. The University weathered the storm, with staff members initating campus-wide recovery efforts.

The snow began around 9 a.m. Friday morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The snow and fog thickened in the evening, causing power outages and winds reaching speeds as severe as 52 mph.

Service response coordinators were hard at work around the clock to keep the campus “safe and operational” over the weekend, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations. Twenty grounds Facilities Management staff members “worked tirelessly” to clear the snow from 3:30 p.m. Friday until midnight, when whiteout conditions set in, Quinn said. After a few hours of sleep in University housing, they resumed their work from 4:30 a.m. to Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, custodial staff members cleared off stairways and entryways.

Dining Services employees also worked through the hazardous conditions. The Sharpe Refectory opened its doors to all students Saturday night, including those off meal plan. While the Ratty serves 1,500 students on a normal Saturday, Quinn said, it accommodated double that number the night after the storm — and all with a reduced staff.

Students showed their gratitude to staff members by presenting them with posters signed with messages of thanks.

“They’re buoyed in their spirit because they’re so appreciated,” Quinn said.

While most businesses on Thayer Street closed over the weekend, a few venues remained open through the storm, including Antonio’s Pizza.

“I knew you kids would be hungry, so it was kind of an easy decision,” said Ed Ramos, the restaurant’s manager.

After closing Friday night, he returned in the morning with a “skeleton” workforce of four employees — hardly enough for the rush of grateful customers, he said.

“I did expect business, but nothing like that. I did not anticipate the kind of rush we saw yesterday,” he said. “My cooks were constantly making pizzas for seven hours straight.”

Despite the intensity of the experience, Ramos — who said he likes to keep himself busy — described it as “a lot of fun.”

Many students seized the opportunity to enjoy the snow. On the Main Green and elsewhere on campus, they threw snowballs, built snowmen, climbed snowbanks and searched for inclines to sled or ski down.

“It is my understanding that a number of trays are missing from the dining hall,” Quinn said.

Ed Backlund ’13, emerging from a hollowed-out snowbank on the Main Green, said he spent two and a half hours helping to build one of the nearby snow forts, adding that his education as a civil engineer was of limited use in the endeavor.

“We didn’t learn about igloos in engineering,” he said.

Other students were less enthusiastic about the weather. Shubh Agrawal ’15, a co-director of student dance team Badmaash, said the group’s only competition of the year was canceled due to the storm.

Though the team was “pretty disappointed,” they managed to enjoy the snow, Agrawal said.

The opening night of the Production Workshop’s “Equus” was also canceled Friday.

“It’s hard because a lot of people aren’t coming out because of the snow,” said Brette Ragland ’13, the show’s production manager. “But the people who are coming to see it really like it.”

Despite the setback, Ragland said the impact on morale has been positive, if anything. “It’s like in football when they play in the snow,” she said. “It’s much harder, but it makes everyone more excited and more pumped to be there.”

Several students involved in the show, including Ragland, Ben Freeman ’13 and Alex Ostroff ’14, were also part of “Company,” a PW show that endured cancellations because of Hurricane Sandy.

“We can’t figure out who’s the cursed one,” Ragland said.

“A lot of people have been above and beyond in terms of trying to do the best they can under difficult circumstances,” said Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA ’06, noting that many staff members had to deal with the storm “personally as well as professionally.” The storm was especially difficult to manage because “there was a lot of accumulation (of snow) in a short amount of time, particularly combined with the wind,” he said. The volume of snow was so great that tractors and trucks had to be employed to cart it away, he added.

As of about noonSunday, Quinn said, the ground crew had completed 90 percent of the interior walkways on campus, 90 percent of the parking lots and 50 percent of the surrounding city sidewalks. She added that “a small number” of buildings on campus did lose electricity but all had regained it by Sunday morning.

“Everybody was in great spirits, and everyone was very cooperative throughout,” she said. “Overall, the University fared relatively well, given the severity of the storm.”

While Carey expects the remainder of the cleanup to be “a little bit messy for a while,” he said everyone is “very cooperative and supportive” and operations should be back to normal in a few days.