When weather gridlocks the Puget Sound

While the snow has yet to cancel classes this year for the UW Tacoma campus, in February of 2019 the campus was closed for at least five days due to inclement weather. But who decides whether the weather will close down the campus, or if operations will continue as planned? These are the “who,” the “how” and the “when” of campus delays and closures due to inclement weather.\

Campus cancelations happen on a campus-by-campus basis. UW Bothell can be closed down due to snow, while UW Seattle will only have a delayed start and UWT will proceed with business as usual, as was the case for this year’s snowstorm already. For UWT, the decision-making process starts well before the snow starts falling.

“In this last round of things, north of here, they knew there was going to be substantial snow, but they didn’t know exactly where it would be,” said John Burkhardt, director of Communications. “Was it going to come into Tacoma? Was it going to be east of Tacoma? Was it going to be in Seattle? Was it going to be north of Seattle? … In this last round of weather, we were aware there was a top possibility of greater snowfall than we’d end up having here in Tacoma.”

Administrators keep an eye on whether or not there is a winter or wind weather advisory placed on Tacoma by the National Weather Service. If there is, — or more than two inches of snow falls — the director of Campus Safety and Security has the on-duty lead provide ground reports of the campus. The on-duty lead provides information such as if there is ice on campus, if the roads around the campus are clear or if there are any power outages in nearby buildings. If the lead notes anything which might be a problem, the issue then goes to the chancellor and his administrators to come to a decision.

“The night before the expected weather situation, Susan [Wagshul-Golden], who is the primary convener, will send us an alert,” said Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs Mentha Hynes-Wilson. “We then, as that time approaches … all jump on the phone. We being myself, Chancellor Pagano, Jill Purdy, Susan, facilities — which Stanley [Joshua] was representing — and … John Burkhardt … [Pagano] asked lots of questions, because ultimately the decision is going to rest with him.” 

The chancellor takes into consideration a couple of things, such as the time of day and how many students and faculty will be impacted by the closure. If this is happening overnight, then a decision will have to be made by 5:30 a.m. the following morning for the newsletter to come out at 6 a.m., as well as online on the website, over UWT’s social media, the emergency blog and through UW Alert, which provides alerts on all major events which impact campus operations.

“We encourage everyone to sign up for UW Alert,” Burkhardt said. “UW Alert automatically automatically goes to all faculty, staff and student email address … but in order to receive text messages, you have to sign up … We do encourage everyone to sign up if they have a cell phone to receive those [alerts].

In addition to monitoring the National Weather Service, UWT administrators also look at localized reports, such as public school closures in Tacoma and the Washington State Department of Transportation’s live traffic cameras.

Even when campus does not close due to weather, administrators have made it a point that no one should be putting themselves at risk to get to campus. 

“Safety is always at the heart of it all,” Hynes-Wilson said. “No student, no member of our community should ever feel like they have to risk their well-being to get here for class during inclement weather. Please be in touch with faculty members, and faculty members can work towards an alternative.”

To receive UW Alert text messages, you can find out how to sign up on the UWT Campus Safety and Security page at