Five stories you can do when you arrive back at Ice Station Zebra (a.k.a. your campus)

Everyone has their own version of what “too cold” is. However if you live in a state in which 50 degrees is considered an arctic blast or a half inch of snow means your area grocery stores run out of bread, milk and batteries, you probably can skip this post.

For those of us who live in areas where terms like “lake-effect snow” and “wind-chill factor” are as common as people who complain about the parking on campus, here are a couple story ideas you can chase down as you get back to campus.

  1. Weather policies: Like those other urban legends about how you get straight A’s if your roommate dies in the dorms, the “rules” for closing the campus due to weather are a bit nebulous in most cases. Track down your school’s policy on these kinds of things. See if there either a concrete rule (e.g. if the public schools in town shut down, campus closes) or at least a trend (e.g. more than a foot of snow means  no school) for weather-related closures.
    Also see if there are different rules for different groups regarding coming to campus. In some cases, “essential” employees are required to risk life and limb to show up and do things while “non-essential” professors get to sit home and think, “Man, it looks ugly out there…”
  2. Maintenance issues: Weather can cause havoc all over a campus and people in the maintenance staff will try to prevent the problems they can and then scramble to fix the ones that happen. Typical issues include things like snow removal, sidewalk salting and so forth, but there are other things to consider. Frigid cold can freeze and burst pipes. Critters can be industrious in looking for warm places to live, thus leading to invasions of mice and squirrels. Heaters and boilers can break down or become overworked. Talk to the folks who are responsible for keeping the systems on campus running smoothly and see what’s going on.
  3. Parking problems: Snow really messes with parking. Will the parking department be out ticketing for cars that inhibit plowing? How do you park when you can’t see the lines? Is there some sort of amnesty for  cars with dead batteries? Talk to the parking folks and give your readers some answers.
  4. Student health center trends: If my class this winter term is any indication, we’re about two coughs and one sneeze away from World War Z. Miserable weather, close-quarter living conditions like dorms and a general lack of healthy habits can have all sorts of illness ripping through your campus. See what the “sickness du jour” is on campus and how much traffic the health center has seen as a result of it.
  5. Helpful graphics/stories: I was leaving my office on Sunday when I saw two students trying to jump start one of their cars. I went over to help them because a) they were trying to jump the car without starting the donor car and b) one of them was wearing no hat, a sweatshirt, a pair of soccer shorts, no socks and a pair of slip on shoes. It was -10 outside with a -25 windchill.
    We got the car started, but it occurred to me that there are a lot of “cold-weather help” pieces we could run. A graphic on how to jump start a dead car would be helpful. So would a link to a “here’s what you should keep in your car in case of emergency” list. Advice on how to drive on snow (cars and techniques have changed a lot since your parents learned on rear-wheel drive cars that didn’t have anti-lock brakes) would also be good. Think about all the stuff you think people should know create a central-junction point for this stuff on your website or in your paper/publication.

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