Surviving winter on a North American campus

10 Feb

University brochures and websites usually have nice pictures of smiling students in short-sleeved t-shirts, enjoying a beautiful, sunny day. Occasionally, there’s a picture of snow covering the campus like frosting on a cake. Snow is delightful, it’s true – but it can be dangerous if you don’t know how to keep warm. Recently, parts of the US were pounded by a historic blizzard, Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped 30 to 40 inches of snow in some places, and caused more than 50 deaths.

If you’re used to the balmy weather that people in Chennai or Mumbai call “winter”, you’ve probably never waited for a bus in knee-deep snow, with a howling, icy wind blowing snow in your face. Such weather can make five minutes seem like an hour.

In much of the US and Canada, winter can do much worse than making it hard for you to get out of bed, or making you late for class. University websites and orientation programmes do not cover topics such as frostbite (don’t Google it – the pictures are gross!), but make it your responsibility to learn how to protect yourself from the cold. If you are poorly prepared, you could end up with a fracture or hypothermia.

Fortunately, sturdy boots, warm clothes, and common sense go a long way. Check the daily forecast and dress accordingly, avoid driving on icy roads, bundle up for a road trip (what if your car/bus breaks down?), avoid travelling alone.

When storms like Jonas are expected, students should check their university website or local news before leaving home in the morning. There may be safety warnings, and announcements of delays (which means classes start later than usual, to allow time for snow removal) or classes being cancelled. Don’t assume classes will be cancelled, though. Towns used to heavy snow usually have more resources to keep the roads clear, and only extremely bad weather will lead to classes being cancelled. For the most part, you’ll just have to bundle up and go to class. On the plus side, hot chocolate tastes best when it’s freezing weather.


Above: A Towson University campus shuttle on a cleared road in the wake of Winter Storm Jonas (photo by Kanji Takeno, Towson University 2016. Used with permission)


Above: Students play in the snow on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus the day after Winter Storm Jonas (Photo by John T. Consoli/University of Maryland. Used with permission)


Above: Testudo, the terrapin mascot of the University of Maryland, joins students in the snow left behind by Winter Storm Jonas. (Photo by John T. Consoli/University of Maryland. Used with permission)

PS – Think Alaska has the snowiest campus in the US? Think again! Check out this list of the snowiest campuses

PPS – Don’t let this happen to you! (link opens video)


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