City grinds to halt after historic snowfall

Two major snowstorms in less than a week paralyzed the D.C. region, forcing nearly every university, school and federal agency to grind to a debilitating halt for an unprecedented four consecutive days.

“Historic” is how administrators described both the snow and its aftermath. In recent history, classes have been canceled for more than a day only a handful of times, with the most recent multiple-day closing being in 2003 when the University canceled classes for two consecutive days due to Hurricane Isabel, according to University archives.

And now, as flakes finished falling on Wednesday and sun began to shine again Thursday, the city can at last hope to get back up on its feet to embark on what is projected to be a lengthy – and expensive – clean-up. In the meantime, administrators must decide how to make up the missed days that have set the semester back by almost a week.

“I don’t recall any weather as robust as this during my 20-year tenure as president,” said former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in an e-mail. “We had storms and snow and ice of course. Some big. Closed for a day or perhaps two. But this past experience and what they say lies ahead are special. Possibly historic.”

What began Friday as an exciting snow storm in a city known for its milder climate became a nuisance for some – students who began to feel trapped inside; event planners who had to cancel prominent speakers, including Rupert Murdoch’s Kalb Report appearance and Meghan McCain’s controversial talk; and the facilities workers who could not clear sidewalks and pathways fast enough.

After all was said and done, a collective 40 inches of snow fell on the District over a six-day period, bringing the season’s running snow total to 54.9 inches, breaking the all-time snowfall record set in the winter of 1898-1899.

Classes were canceled beginning at 3 p.m. Friday, and six and a half days without classes left students and administrators scrambling to find alternative means of entertainment.

The University planned “Warm Zone” activities, which included handing out free food and hot chocolate, playing free movies on campus, and allowing students to bowl and shoot pool free of charge in the Hippodrome, among other activities.

Some students took event planning into their own hands, planning snowball fights on and off campus, leading to an epic snow battle between GW and Georgetown students, which University President Steven Knapp attended. GW ultimately came out victorious.

Overall, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz estimated that the damage from this season’s record-setting snowfall cost the University “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” forcing Katz and his staff to shift funds around to account for the unplanned expenditures.

The city also exceeded its $6.2 million snow-removal budget, and President Barack Obama said D.C. is eligible to apply for federal disaster relief for both storms simultaneously, which could ultimately lead to the D.C. region receiving more federal relief aid than it has for any other natural disaster in the Washington area’s past, according to The Washington Post.

And while students enjoyed four straight days of canceled classes, cabin fever began to set in by Thursday for some.

“It was kind of boring, just sitting around. School gives you something to do,” said sophomore Jessica Harris. “I have a Bio Lab that I need to make up on Tuesday. One of my professors already threatened to hold make-up classes on the weekend.”

Drew Spence contributed to this report.

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