Sandy storms the District

With Hurricane Sandy hurtling toward the Atlantic coast, GW will shut its doors Monday – the first University-wide closure since the 2010 Snowpocalypse.

Showers and powerful gusts greeted the city Sunday night, the starting punch of a harsh storm that forecasters expect will see up to 70 mph winds, 10 inches of rain and widespread power outages.

All academic buildings and libraries, as well as the Lerner Health and Wellness Center and the Smith Center, will remain closed Monday as campus braces for the storm. The federal and District governments will join area universities in the shutdown, and flights and trains have canceled trips in and out of the region.

Administrators were in close contact with the D.C. government and federal agencies throughout the weekend, keeping students glued to social media and GW’s campus advisory page to find out about class

What to expect:

Monday

Skies: pounding showers all day
Winds: 35-50 mph, surging to 70 mph at night
Temperature: 40 degrees

Tuesday

Skies: heavy rains throughout the morning, settling by noon
Winds: up to 60 mph
Temperature: as low as 37 degrees

Wednesday

Skies: cloudy and calm, 30 percent chance of rain
Winds: low winds
Temperature: high of 54 degrees

cancellations. The cancellation message hit cell phones and inboxes at about 6 p.m. Sunday, hours after schools along the East Coast began announcing closings – sending students into revelry on Facebook and Twitter, and in some cases, into the streets.

The University has designated shelters – the Marvin Center, the Smith Center and the Media and Public Affairs building – but the Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said students would be safe in their residence halls and apartments. Campus dining halls have stocked up and will maintain normal operating hours to feed students.

“If students follow instructions, stay indoors, don’t go outside, stay away from windows, everyone will be safe,” Darnell said.

The Vern Express will operate on a normal schedule as long as road conditions permit, but service could be suspended if the weather worsens, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said Sunday night. Like the Metro, which cancelled all trains and buses starting Monday, bus service to the Virginia Science and Technology Campus is suspended until further notice.

The hurricane has sent federal, city and University officials in a scramble to respond to the historic – and alarming – storm that will creep up the East Coast and merge with a cold front crossing the Northeast. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for the District late Sunday.

“Let me be clear. This storm is unique, large, dangerous and unlike anything our region has ever experienced in a very a long time,” Mayor Vincent Gray said at a press conference Sunday.

Crews began battening down campus this weekend, clearing storm drains and preparing sandbags. The Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses are equipped with generators in case of power outages, and the University sent extra generators to the Vern, which is prone to losing electricity during heavy storms.

“Because of the city’s power grid, we seem to always have a problem with the Mount Vernon campus. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so we brought in extra generators for that campus,” Darnell said Saturday night. “Critical facilities” on the Foggy Bottom Campus already had backup generators, he said.

Additional facilities personnel, including police and housekeeping employees, will remain on-call during the storm, Darnell said, and members may be housed on campus or in hotels depending on the severity of the storm.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority began prepping for the storm Friday by placing sandbags around potential water entry points to Metro rail tunnels and scheduling additional staff to respond to arising problems.

The University also worked with construction contractors to safeguard major construction sites across campus including the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and School of Public Health and Health Services pits.

“[The contractors] have their own emergency plans in place for the storm, especially to make sure the cranes can sustain wind,” Darnell said. The crane at the Science and Engineering Hall construction zone remained secure following the impact of Hurricane Irene in August 2011.

Hurricane Irene forced the University to allow students to move into their residence halls earlier than scheduled to avoid the swirling storm. But Irene toppled only a handful of trees and news stands on campus, largely sparing the District and producing minimal damage.

Julie Alderman, Brianna Gurciullo, Chloe Sorvino, Matthew Kwiecinski, Cory Weinberg and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

Follow The Hatchet’s Hurricane Sandy coverage.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.