Snow? Snow! Blueprint for a Snow Day

Posted by Sam on November 22, 2016

Student Life

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Boy getting a snowball thrown at him by parents

There are two seasons in Canada, construction and winter, and unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) construction season has come to an end. Just last week, when it was 17 degrees in mid-November and I was walking around in a T-shirt, it seemed almost ridiculous to push out this post, so we at the YUBlog stalled. Yet Canada’s weather system is essentially a jack-in-a-box. There are no transitions, no warnings, just a general sense of when a particular season is supposed to happen.

Accordingly, as the past two years in particular have taught us, you want to be prepared when winter inevitably does burst onto the scene and surprise the [*insert your term of choice here] out of you. As has just happened: we went from 17 degrees to snow on the ground in two days. Knowing what is to come, we put together and updated this guide to help you prepare for the forthcoming months of hand-pocketing and red noses.

This post covers the basics, from where to find cancellation notifications to how to prepare for winter storms and power outages, as well as more obscure (but equally important) topics such as who makes the call to keep the school open and why.

Let’s get started:

I) Where to find cancellations:

Up-close icicle hanging off of a clothes line

The quickest way to find out about weather warnings/emergencies is to check York’s online weather page. Generally speaking, York does not send out email notifications, but in the event of closures, you will find cancellation notices on the current students page, the Registrar’s Office page, FacebookTwitter, as well as on campus LCD screens, the York U safety app and York’s emergency preparedness page. As if that isn’t enough information, there’s also York’s emergency phone line at 416-736-5000.

For the cancellation of any daytime operations/classes, the school will make a decision by 5:30am. In relation to evening operations/classes, the decision will be made by 5pm, and for any remaining nighttime classes/operations, you can expect a decision by 9pm. Keep this in mind on those -30C mornings before you throw on your five layers of clothing and hightail it to school.

If after a closure you want to find out if classes have resumed, check out this passage from the University Secretariat, York’s governing body:

Unless a decision is made to continue the weather emergency, the University will return to normal operating procedures at 11:00 p.m. on the day of a weather emergency (for evening or night shift employees) and 8:00 a.m. the following morning for all other purposes.

In other words, just because the university is declared closed as of midnight, doesn’t mean it won’t be declared open the following morning. To avoid any issues, it’s worth getting up early the next morning to check.

II) Preparing for the situation:

Looped video of a man with a puffy jacket getting smacked repeatedly by two people

Also on the York Weather page mentioned above you will find useful links to such services as Environment Canada, the Weather Network and University Weather procedures. It’s important not only to consider the situation the day of, but be aware of upcoming forecasts as well.

If you take public transit, for example, and the nice lady on the Weather Channel or the weather app on your phone just told you that Mother Nature plans on dropping 2 feet of snow the next day, it might be wise to anticipate the bus taking a little longer to reach its destination. Also, if you drive and the roads might be greasy, instead of rushing to school and potentially putting yourself in harm’s way, try to get up earlier (yes, it’s hard) to give yourself enough time to arrive at school safely.

Numerous orange pilons in a wooded area

The same goes for exam/assignment dates. If it’s winter and you know weather may present a problem in getting to school, plan ahead: Discuss options with your professors beforehand and ask about any possible alternate arrangements. It’s worth it; I’ve known cases where friends didn’t take this precaution and ended up suffering the consequences.

If you drive to school, parking may present challenges. After heavy snowfall, a percentage of parking spaces are unavoidably taken up by mounds of plowed snow, resulting in less spaces for people. So, it’s worth knowing alternative locations. Below you can find a map of the Keele Campus listing all parking lots. They are the grey diagrams with either an “R” or “P” on them.

Map of the Keele Campus
To get to the actual Maps and Directions page for more info, simply click the image.

Outside of school, it’s important to be prepared for possible power outages. Two years ago, when Toronto (and Canada in general) suffered the December 2013 ice storm, my house in the York Village was completely unprepared. No flashlights, no candles, and every night all nine of us had to huddle in the kitchen around an open stove in our full winter attire. Great bonding experience, but a horrible everything else experience.

If you live off campus, it’s a good idea to keep these items handy in case of emergencies:

  • Flashlights
  • Candles
  • Extra blankets
  • Backup generator (landlords will often help with this)
  • Non-electric heaters
  • Portable charging dock for your phone (ideally charged beforehand)

III) What goes into making the call to shut down the school:

Snow footprint on concrete

We all know the feeling. Either you make the commute to school only to find classes cancelled, or you look out the window and ask yourself, “How in the name of Zeus’s beard is school still open?” Both situations can be frustrating, but contrary to popular belief, there is no one overarching Voldemort figure bent on tormenting students. A lot goes into making the call on closures.

In its most basic form, the decision to close the school lies in the hands of the Vice-President, Finance & Administration and is based on two conditions as endorsed by the Senate. The school will close when weather conditions:

  • may prevent safe travel to and from the University; or
  • may have a substantial adverse effect on normal University operations.

What does that mean? If visibility on a given day makes it seem as though the Michelin Man has sat down on Toronto, it would not be safe to travel to class, so the University will close. If the entire campus has lost power due to a relentless ice storm, normal University operations such as classes and labs are impossible; in this case again, the school will close.

Blank white rectangle
If your windshield looks like this, don’t drive to school.

There will be situations in which you might not agree with the University’s decision. York’s foremost concern is for the safety of its students and staff, yet if you find yourself in a situation where the school is open, but you genuinely think that you put yourself at risk by travelling, the decision to stay home is yours. Just be responsible about making that decision and communicate with your professors or program staff as soon as possible.

A lot also goes into closing down an institution such as York with more than 50,000 students and 7,000+ staff. There are challenges and consequences to shutting down a university the size of a small city. Think of the compounded effect of hundreds of professors not being able to stay on educational track for a few days in a row. What might it mean for such events as graduation dates, grant deadlines and ongoing lab research with live plants and animals? There are also considerable economic repercussions for individuals and the University. Consider your lost wages if the term is extended and you can’t work those extra days in December, or the cost of rebooking a flight if your exam is moved. Rescheduling exam invigilators, extending contracts and keeping housing open longer all incur costs for the University. It’s worth keeping these points in mind; I certainly learned something.

If you want to know more about what exactly goes in to the decision-making process, or the chain of command involved in the whole procedure, be sure to check out the University Secretariat’s policy and procedures pages. Also, if you yourself have any tips for the upcoming winter months, comment below or tweet us at @YorkUstudents. Safe travels.

Looped video of both a criminal and police officer trying to push their cars out of the snow

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally posted on December 4, 2015.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

See other posts by Sam