GW shuts down after historic snowfall

After a weekend of snowball fights, deserted streets and blanketed monuments, the University finally has an official snow day.

All classes were canceled Monday after administrators weighed the lack of public transportation options for faculty and staff members, and the road conditions in neighborhoods in Maryland, Virginia and the District remained poor, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said Sunday night.

The “Snowmageddon,” “Snowpocalypse,” “Snowtorious B.I.G.,” or “snOMG” – names of the storm that were trending topics on Twitter in the District – blanketed D.C. with upwards of 26 inches of snow between Friday and midday Saturday, the worst storm since 1922.

As the city and GW shut down around them, students held snowball fights, built snowmen and toured the National Mall. Even if students wanted to hit the books, the University’s libraries were closed for much of the weekend.

Sophomores Cory Steinberg, John Neville and Huston Harris said they passed the time in the snow with multiple snowball fights.

“We had four hours of snowball fights last night, which was a lot of fun,” Neville said on Saturday, as he and his friends built a fort near Kogan Plaza.

Sophomore Alyssa Hart said she spent part of Saturday inside watching movies with friends before participating in the University Yard snowball fight.

“We had a Mary Kate and Ashley marathon this morning. We watched Billboard Dad and Holiday in the Sun,” Hart said. “We ventured outside finally. We’ve enjoyed the snow. We need another week of this.”

Another student, freshman Lauren Turek, said she and some friends bought plastic storage bins to go sledding down the bottom of 23rd Street as it slopes toward the Lincoln Memorial Saturday.

The Vern Express was “on a normal schedule” but William Goldring, a driver for International Limousine Company, said that buses were frequently getting stuck in snowbanks and difficult road conditions forced drivers to slow down.

Chris Thiers, a freshman living on the Mount Vernon campus, took the long wait times in stride.

“I thought it was cool and very fun. I’ve never had that many death-defying experiences on the Vern Express before,” Thiers said. “It was like sledding, but on the road. Very, very fun.”

GW Hospital did not have media representatives available this weekend to report the number of hypothermia or snow-related injuries, though some property damage was reported to University Police. Sigma Chi president Ashish Kumbhat said three windows in his fraternity’s townhouse were broken after a late-night snowball fight on the corner of 22nd and F streets Friday. The townhouse for Beta Theta Pi also reported a broken window.

Students brave enough to venture outside had to be wary of trees cracking under a heavy cover of snow. An entrance into Kogan Plaza from 22nd Street, for example, was almost impassable after dozens of large branches fell across the path.

Perhaps the hardest job of the weekend was left to more than 100 members of the Facilities crew, who worked almost nonstop since the storm began Friday to clear sidewalks and tree branches that fell due to the weight of the snow, said Alicia O’Neil, senior associate vice president of operations.

“Since the storm began, all areas are being treated simultaneously with the goal of having the majority of cleanup completed by Sunday afternoon,” said O’Neil in an e-mail. “At this point, the campus sidewalks have been cleared to a wide-walk and are easily passable – many areas are clear to the brick/concrete.”

O’Neil said this weekend’s blizzard posed different challenges for the facilities crew than the Dec. 19 storm – which dropped about 16 inches of snow on the District.

“The increased volume of snow with this storm has challenged work crews in finding places to deposit excess snow,” O’Neil said. “Additionally, the large amount of snow resulted in downed tree limbs which had to be removed as well, requiring additional manpower.”

The University was aided by the city’s snow-removal forces, which District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said were in their “fifth 12-hour shift” on Sunday night.

“At our peak, we had a total of 270 pieces of equipment which included contract plows,” Lisle said. “I think we’re doing well but we have more to do.”

Lisle noted that the city has already exceeded its snow-removal budget but with more snow expected again by Wednesday, D.C. officials will not know by exactly how much until winter draws to a close.

Even with many dining options closed and transportation ground to a halt, students told The Hatchet the snowstorm was worth it for the chance to see D.C. like no tourist could.

“D.C. was completely shut down thanks to all this snow,” freshman Brendan Pailet said. “We were able to walk down the center of roads without seeing any cars. It was like being in a winter-version of I Am Legend.”

Amy D’Onofrio, Erica Obseri, Emily Cahn, Gabrielle Bluestone, Kara Dunford, Amanda Dick, Madeleine O’Connor, and Lauren French contributed to this report.

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