Nor’easter no match for Northeastern storm team charged with keeping New England campuses safe
|Greg Concannon of the Northeastern Facilities Division crew prepares a Bobcat snow brush in advance of Tuesday’s snowstorm. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University|
The calendar may say it’s nearly spring, but Northeastern students, faculty and staff in New England are bracing for a late winter blast of snow, ice, rain, wind or some combination of cold and wet weather.
Mark Boulter, Northeastern’s senior director of building services, and his team are preparing for the impact of the nor’easter on campuses in Boston, Burlington and Nahant, Massachusetts. Storm prep is also underway in Portland, Maine.
Boulter spoke with Northeastern Global News about what decisions go into canceling classes, how his crews handle ice and snow, and why he doesn’t expect to get much sleep until the storm passes sometime Wednesday.
|Brendan Joseph (left) and Ashlin Davis of the Facilities Division grounds crew, prepare snow equipment for the Nor’easter. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University|
Hard to know, ice or snow?
Meteorologists are predicting 4 to 8 inches of snow—maybe more—in Boston, Burlington and Nahant. Meanwhile, up to a foot could fall in Portland.
The snowfall depends on how soon the snow starts falling and where the snow/rain line falls, always a tricky call in coastal Massachusetts.
“Boston is always on that rain/snow line,” Boulter says.
The freezing temperatures associated with its northern geographic location is often tempered during storms by the warmth of the ocean effect.
Precipitation can turn to rain, and that rain can turn to ice.
“I lose more sleep over ice than I do over a foot of snow,” Boulter says. “We can have a flash freeze in a heartbeat. Those are the worst conditions.”
While this winter has been relatively mild, the Boston campus has had its share of icy days already, Boulter says.
The 130,000 pounds or so of ice melt that Northeastern purchases every year goes not only for roadways, but also doorways and sidewalks.
Wind will shut down tents, athletic bubble.
The high winds being forecast with the nor’easter also may make heated outdoor spaces off limits on the Boston campus, Boulter says.
“We’ve got some tents and we’ve got the athletic bubble” on the William E. Carter Playground, he says.
The structures are closed when the wind reaches 35 mph, and gusts of 40 mph to 60 mph are forecast with Tuesday’s storm, Boulter says.
The structures also are closed during heavy, wet snowfalls.
Snow delays or cancellations—who decides?
The decision to delay or cancel classes depends on a number of factors, including the intensity of the storm, Boulter says.
“If we get six inches spread over 24 hours, that’s not going to impact things,” he says. But snowfall of one to two inches an hour can spell tough conditions for commuters.
The forecast for Tuesday afternoon is “a real mess,” Boulter says. “In the afternoon is when (the weather) is going to start to deteriorate.”
Boulter says he’s in contact with the registrar’s office to see how many classes take place before noon versus afternoon, information he will share with members of the senior leadership team who will make decisions about any delays or cancellations.
“They look out for the safety and welfare of the university community,” Boulter says.
Snell Library, Marino Center will be open.
Even if classes are delayed or canceled, Snell Library and Marino Fitness Center will be open as long as staff can get to work at those locations, Boulter says.
For weather forecasting, he relies on DTN Schneider and also on Precision Weather Forecasting, which is based in Hull.
When the snow and ice comes, Boulter relies on a team of 100-plus employees and contractors to work on cleanup around the clock.
Boulter, who has worked at the university for 40 years since graduating from Northeastern in 1983, says he’s proud of the team he has built over the years.
“When everybody’s at home relaxing, they’re out in the raw elements fighting the storm and making sure the place is passable and safe for the university community,” he said.