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UB forgoes holding snow day during Tuesday's lake effect storm

Many commuters feel the university should have called off classes

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UB commuters who live in the Southtowns woke up Tuesday morning to mounds of drifting snow covering their cars, unplowed roads and flashing red banners on television screens notifying viewers that various Buffalo suburbs were in “states of emergency.”

But what those students didn’t see? A notice UB canceled classes.

UB remained open on Nov. 18 while parts Western New York experienced a massive lake effect snowstorm. The immediate area around UB and the Northtowns went unscathed, but snow piled high in Lancaster, Hamburg, West Seneca, Orchard Park and South Buffalo. By Tuesday evening, snow in some of those areas reached more than 70 inches.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced Tuesday afternoon the National Guard was coming to assist the greater Buffalo area. Later Tuesday night he announced there were at least four deaths directly related to the storm.

UB made a posting through its online alert system Tuesday morning that stated the campus “understood that not everyone [would] be able to travel to campus in inclement weather” but did not cancel classes and asked the community to “use their best judgment” in deciding whether to come to campus.

That sentiment was reiterated by UB Spokesman John Della Contrada who said, “Students, faculty and staff are expected to use their best judgment in assessing the risk of coming to campus and returning home based on individual circumstances.”

But students like Trevor Sokolowski, a senior communication major from Lancaster, didn’t feel that measure was enough and said there wasn’t “any doubt” UB should have canceled classes.

“I don’t know how it’s fair for anyone to drive in this stuff, that’s what was crazy to me,” he said. “They’re basically saying it’s all right to drive.”

Earlier in the day, Sokolowski said he saw snowplows trying to dig out fire trucks stuck outside of his house in Lancaster.

“If the fire trucks can’t get out, how is my Chevy Cruze going to get out?” he said.

Della Contrada said the decision to hold classes and activities was based on the input of university officials responsible for student life and safety, academic scheduling, emergency management, athletics, human resources, facilities operations and campus infrastructure.

After conference calls on Monday and Tuesday about the weather conditions and forecasts in the region, UB officials recommended classes and activities should remain as normal.

President Satish K. Tripathi received the recommendation and approved their decision.

Students often joke UB never closes, but it has a few times in the last decade. UB closed during Buffalo’s infamous October storm in 2006 and twice in 2014: once during the January winter sessions and once in March.

Katie McClure, a second-year graduate social work student, was trapped at home in West Seneca with almost 5 feet of snow blocking her front door Tuesday. While the snowfall may have been “more than anyone bargained for,” UB should have still canceled classes and activities for the day, she said.

“With the end of the semester coming up, students may have felt the need to get to school to complete projects and presentations, and it is just way too dangerous,” she said.

Kristen Kozlowski, a junior business administration major from Lancaster, said she was worried about how professors would handle those students, like herself, who couldn’t leave their homes. She said it’s unfair if students are punished for missing out on lecture material or missing classes that require attendance.

“If there are road closings, travel bans and states of emergencies in the municipalities surrounding UB, I believe UB has a duty to close,” she said in an email.

Kozlowski said her mother had a trip planned to Florida but could not go because despite her flight not being canceled, she could not travel to the airport. Many people in Lancaster still have their cars buried under snow or stuck in driveways, where the snow is too thick to shovel or plow through.

Parts of I-90 and Route 219 were also closed due to heavy snowfall, and 38 departing flights from Buffalo were canceled Tuesday, according to WGRZ.

Cars, trucks and buses were stranded in deep snow along sections of the New York State Thruway Monday night into Tuesday. Some motorists spent over 20 hours in their vehicles before they were dug out or rescued by Thruway officials.

Mitchell Krah, a senior environmental studies major, faced more than 4 feet of snow in West Seneca. He said UB should include conditions affecting commuters – which make up a large part of UB’s student population – when making decisions regarding the weather and school closures.

Several colleges in the Buffalo area, like Canisius College, Daemen Collge and D’Youville College closed down Tuesday morning or later in the afternoon. UB did reschedule the John Oliver Distinguished Speaker Series due to weather Tuesday night and canceled Wednesday night’s the Strictly Hip pregame concert, but has plans to still hold the football game against Kent State.

Poloncarz described the storm as a knife that cut through Erie County in his first press conference Tuesday.

As of Tuesday night, forecasters estimated snowfall would reach 3 to 4 feet from South Buffalo to Batavia, and another 5 to 6 feet would accumulate from Lackawanna to Lancaster and Elma. The National Weather Service in Buffalo issued a lake effect snow warning from 11 p.m. on Wednesday to 1 a.m. Friday as second storm is expected to pass through the region.

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