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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Let it snow: A look at the school’s snow policy

< maintains its grip on Minnesota, members of the Carleton community may begin to take for granted the campus’s sidewalks, which are kept as clear and easy to walk on as possible. In fact, they have the tireless work of the Facilities Department to thank.

For grounds staff, snowstorms represent a battle to keep Carleton’s walkways from becoming icy and dangerous for the crowds of people who walk on them each day.

“When students wake up in the morning, we don’t want them to know it snowed,” Grounds Superintendent Dennis Easley said.

On snowy days grounds staff generally start work at around 8 a.m. and often continue as late as 10 p.m.—sometimes even longer. This is chiefly because of the large volume of foot traffic that occurs at Carleton at late hours.

“Sometimes it’s more crowded at 10 at night than 10 in the morning,” Easley said.

This foot traffic creates a hazard because as snow on sidewalks is repeatedly tread on, it becomes packed into the pavement and becomes slippery and unyielding, posing a danger similar to ice. In addition, Carleton grounds staff also make sure roadways on campus are clear; this is vital because emergency vehicles must be able to use these roads, Easley said.

The grounds staff has a wide array of tools they use to keep sidewalks and roads clear of snow. Among the most familiar to Carleton students is the rotary broom, which is mounted on a small tractor and driven along walkways to clear snow. Conventional snowblowers are also used.

Different methods must be used to combat ice buildup. The most common technique is placing salt and sand on walkways and roads—salt to melt the ice and sand to allow pedestrians’ feet to gain traction. However, salting only does so much good when temperatures dive below freezing.

“The problem we’ve had here is that it’s so cold that the salt just lies there and doesn’t do anything,” Easley said.

An alternative often used by Carleton grounds staff is scraping ice off the pavement manually, but this is also difficult in subzero temperatures, Easley said. Even chemical treatments can lose their effect.

“Chemicals just bounce off if it’s too cold,” Easley said.

In some cases, Easley said, little can be done until temperatures rise closer to normal levels. A subzero stretch of several weeks is possible but “hasn’t happened in a long time,” Easley said.

One weather condition that caused problems for grounds staff during a snowstorm this Christmas was freezing rain, which Easley said he expected to be mostly absorbed by snow on the ground. However, more rain and less snow fell than Easley expected, and the ice combined with higher-than-expected foot traffic to create a hazard for Carleton community members.

“It gets to be kind of a crapshoot as to what to prepare for,” Easley said.

So far, the current winter is actually somewhat less severe than usual, Easley said. On average, Easley said, the first day of continuous snowfall in Minneapolis-St. Paul is around Nov. 19, and this year the first heavy snow did not fall until well after that date. One explanation could be an El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which is expected to create warmer temperatures from December to February in the north-central United States this winter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On average, 56.3 inches of snow falls on the Twin Cities annually, according to the Midwest Regional Climate Center, and January and March are the snowiest months of the year.

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