Although severe weather is the norm for a winter in Minnesota, a series of extreme and bizarre events have taken even longtime residents by surprise this past year.
Fall term kicked off with a record flood but it didn’t stop there. A snowstorm during the weekend of Dec. 15th and 16th dropped nearly 20 inches of snow in the Northfield area, effectively crippling commuters and trapping even the most determined residents in their homes. Another storm followed on New Year’s Eve, and though it brought considerably less snowfall, it delivered an unexpected blow: the fiber-optic cable in the Cowling Arboretum was severed, leaving both Carleton College and St. Olaf without telephone or Internet service.
According to the director of facilities of Carleton College Steven Spehn, the current estimate for the losses caused by the October flood has dropped to $4.2 million, a pleasanter estimate than the $5.5 million cited in late October. Spehn notes that even as the damage is assessed and repair works are underway, it still remains to be seen how the aftermath of the flood will impact budget planning, as some of the estimates of costs are yet to be verified. The maximum amount that the insurance will cover cuts close to the current estimate so it is still possible that the College might be left with a remaining balance. Furthermore, the College is considering investing funds to go beyond repairs and improve damaged facilities in order to better prepare for future floods. Luckily, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may also provide funding to help cover the losses as well as equip for future emergencies.
The College is making strong progress in its recovery from the flood, but the track team and others that rely on the outdoor track in Laird Stadium or the first floor of the Stadium will have to do without. Spehn forecasts the completion of repairs for the West Gym fields and Laird Stadium to be around late spring or summer of this year. On the bright side, housing repairs have been completed as well as the restorations of West Gym facilities.
Fortunately, most students were off campus over winter break when the severe mid-December blizzard arrived. The winter weather advisory released by the National Weather Service warned drivers of dangerous travel conditions, listing limited visibility and snow accumulation as risky obstacles. In Northfield, the advisory discouraged most commuters and residents from attempting to travel as 18 inches of snow accumulated over the weekend. In response, the city of Northfield enacted a snow emergency plan that had most streets cleared by the afternoon of Sunday the 16th, when the downfall had eased up.
On campus, there was no infrastructural damage, but the buildup of heavy snow near furnace vents and rooftops of buildings caused some concern. Some scheduled campus events were canceled, but most Carleton staff members braved their way through the snow to show up for work that weekend. Spehn pointed out that several dedicated custodians who commute even stayed with family and friends in town to continue working throughout the weekend.
According to the Official Climate Recording Station for the region, it was the second snowiest December on record. In total, Southeastern Minnesota received 31.5 inches of snow.
The storm that hit Northfield on New Years Eve was relatively tame in terms of weather conditions and snowfall, but had a significant impact on campus life when it disconnected the fiber-optics cable in the Arb. However, due to the rapid response and hard work on the part of ITS and phone company workers, the loss of telephone and Internet access was short-lived as service was restored within a day. An official cause for the breaking of the cable line cannot be determined until spring when workers will have access to the underground work site.
“The amount of snowfall reminds me of how it was growing up in Northfield,” said Brooke Larsen, assistant coach of the Carleton swimming and diving team. “I have not seen this kind of snowfall since the early 1990’s. My parents, who are still in Northfield, attempted to snow blow their driveway four times on the day the storm struck (Dec. 15) but finally gave up at getting out until Sunday.”
Regarding the October flood that severely damaged downtown businesses as well as many facilities at Carleton, Larsen cited the experience of her father, a St. Olaf alum, “He said he’s never seen the Laird Stadium flooded like that; in some years, the parking lot gets filled with water, but nothing like that.”
Spehn pondered the climate-related events of the past year and came up with more questions than answers, “What hand does regional development have in these blizzards and floods?” Spehn wondered. “How much of it can we attribute to climate change? And most importantly, what does this mean for the future of Carleton?”
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