As she heard reports of record-breaking snowfall in D.C. last weekend, professor Patricia Phalen realized she wasn’t going to make it from Los Angeles to Foggy Bottom any time soon.
The School of Media and Public Affairs professor, who had been in L.A. working at a studio archive, had expected to fly back Sunday in time for classes on Monday. Unfortunately, the storm that dumped more than two feet of snow on the District made the flight impossible.
“We all had to be re-booked,” Phalen said in an e-mail. “Everyone was trying to get home as soon as possible, so all the flights were booked until mid-week.”
She was one of many professors who preemptively contacted students about classes, and some – like Phalen – decided Sunday to cancel their classes, while others put their students on notice.
Political science professor Douglas Steinel, for example, knew Sunday that regardless of whether or not the University declared a snow day, his class might not go on. The ability of University employees to get to campus – often through public transportation – is one of the biggest determinants on whether or not school will be canceled, Executive Vice President Lou Katz said.
The Howard County, Md. resident lives on a cul-de-sac, which he called the “lowest priority for snow plows.” When he saw he had 34 inches of snow on his street Saturday, he realized he might not make it to the Mount Vernon campus for his Monday class.
Steinel e-mailed students warning them to watch out for an e-mail if he couldn’t make it. Soon after, the University declared a snow day.
English professor Margaret Soltan couldn’t even stay home due to the storm. The professor’s home in Garrett Park, near Bethesda, Md., lost power the first night of the storm and quickly became cold.
“[My husband and I] had a fire in the fireplace, water simmering on the stove, that sort of thing. We slept under tons of blankets and held little battery lamps on our chests so that we could read in bed,” Soltan said in an e-mail. “As conditions worsened the next day, we decided to take a room at a local hotel.”
Still, the experience hasn’t been bad, Soltan said.
“I wish I could regale you with our subsequent difficulties, but life in a boutique hotel is not exactly an ordeal,” Soltan said, adding that she would stay at the hotel until the blizzard ended and power was secure.
Katz, who lives near Woodley Park, said even getting to campus from within D.C. was extremely difficult.
Katz said he normally takes a bus to Foggy Bottom, but service had been suspended due to snow. Taking the Metro also posed issues.
“The Metro itself is fine, it’s just getting there. Most of the people now have cleaned up their sidewalks, but you can’t get to the sidewalks across the street because there are 5-foot mounds of snow and ice that you have to climb over,” Katz said, “It’s a total mess. And we are lucky because lots of people out in Virginia and Maryland can’t get anywhere.”
History professor and Alexandria, Va. resident Benjamin Hopkins said that he was snowed in “in the sense that like most people, there is no public transport running in my area.” Taking out a car would be “foolhardy,” so Hopkins said he found a new mode of transportation until the roads were cleared.
“I have been happily getting around on my skis, however,” Hopkins said in an e-mail. “[I] have thoroughly enjoyed the chance for some ‘urban skiing.’ “
With classes canceled for most of the week due to the record snowfall, Phalen ensured students would continue with class work by requiring them to submit reading notes on BlackBoard once a week.
“GW administration and faculty had expected to use Blackboard more heavily if students contracted the H1N1 virus, so this fall I attended an extra training session on the software,” Phalen said. “I didn’t expect we’d have to use it because of snow!”
Emily Cahn contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the February 12, 2010 issue of the Hatchet.