Inclement winter weather caused the cancellation of St. John’s classes last Friday for the second time during the 2007 academic year, as the University made the decision to close for the day based on weather forecasts of incoming heavy precipitation and dropping temperatures.
The decision came in the wake of a controversial decision to stay open on the morning of Feb. 14 despite heavy snow and sleet. The University eventually cancelled all classes at 2:30 p.m. that day.
“The difference between the last storm and this one was really about trying to forecast the weather,” explained Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer James P. Pellow, Ed.D. “As I recall, there was a dusting [on the 14th] and the forecast was not as ominous. As it turned out, it turned into a very difficult situation.”
Pellow explained that the situation of the more recent storm was different, with conditions appearing clear in the morning but the forecast predicting increasingly hazardous weather.
“In spite of the fact that it looked pretty clear out, the prediction was that it was a nor’easter, the temperatures were dropping, and it looked like things would get a lot worse,” he said.
He added that Public Safety actually made a phone call to New Jersey State Troopers in order to get a more accurate idea of how far off the heavy precipitation was.
“We predicted that the heavier snowfall would actually reach us before the television forecasts indicated,” Pellow said.
He explained that this information, combined with the fact that it was a Friday and there were fewer classes than on other weekdays, led to the decision to close all St. John’s campuses.During the last storm, in which the University remained open throughout the morning and early afternoon, Public Safety reported several injuries to pedestrians and minor car accidents on campus. There were also complaints from some students and faculty that the University did not close earlier than it did.
Pellow, however, said that these incidents did not affect the decision making process for the more recent storm, explaining that the process has been the same for many years.
“There will always be occurrences of slipping and some accidents,” he said, “so those things will always be taken into consideration.”
Pellow admitted that the University’s decisions have been questioned in the past, but maintained that the decision-making process in times of inclement weather is the most effective and safe way of choosing when to close.
“When we decided to stay open on Valentine’s Day a lot of people said that it was the wrong decision,” he said. “Now when we closed in the morning, it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that folks ended up being glad that we did close.””The weather is always changing. The process is always the same.”