On February 13, Colby officially closed due to winter storm Orson. This was the fifth time the College has closed and cancelled classes. On Friday, February 10, Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 sent an email to students reporting that the administration was tracking a significant winter storm system that might impact the campus late Sunday into Monday with potentially dangerous blizzard conditions. The storm, nicknamed Orson, was expected to bring Waterville and other areas of the Northeast winds up to 50 mph and snow projections between 16 to 20 inches.
The email further noted that it was possible that the weather conditions would be so severe that the College would close on Monday, cancelling class and only allowing essential functions to run.
Following Friday’s notification, on Sunday, February 12, Burrell-McRae sent out another email to students reporting that the College would in fact be closed on Monday. All classes and athletic practices and events were cancelled. Additionally, Miller Library, the Alfond Athletic Center, health services, and the counseling center were closed. Only essential services in the areas of the physical plant, security, and dining services were operational.
The Bangor Daily News reported that some areas of Maine received over two feet of snow and winds over 35 mph. Furthermore, in some areas of Southern Maine, the National Weather Service reported that drifting snow could have ranged from five to seven feet deep. The Bangor Daily News also reported that the visibility was so poor that during the early hours of Monday, the Maine Department of Transportation ordered some snowplows in the Bangor area as well as in the mid-coast and Down East regions to stop plowing the roads temporarily.
Apart from cancelling classes and athletic events, the administration also took other precautions. In Burrell-McRae’s email, students were urged to stay inside and off the roads unless absolutely necessary, saying, “I ask you to remain inside with the exception of necessities such as going to the dining hall. Please walk in pairs and avoid driving.”
However, some students did not heed the warnings of the administration. Peg Schriener ’18 commented on her experience with the record-setting blizzard, saying, “despite the administration wanting students to travel in pairs, I walked to Bobs alone on the way to dinner and fell into a snowbank. Thankfully, other students were around and helped me up.”
Other students had different experiences. Julia Saul ’18 and her friends abandoned their books and took to the snow. Saul, a California native, commented that, “snow days at Colby are so rare that whenever we have one everyone has a blast. I spent my day running around in the snow and snowboarding down the hill adjacent to the chapel.” Saul went on to say that there was so much snow that it was possible to snowboard to the dining hall.
Although rare, this isn’t the first snow day some current students have witnessed. On January 27, 2015 classes and athletic practices were cancelled due to a severe winter snowstorm. The 2015 storm, deemed “Juno” by meteorologists, ended the College’s 17-year streak of no class cancellations due to weather.
Prior to 2015, the College had three closures—in 1952, 1960 and 1998. The monumental “Blizzard of 1952” was the first major storm that students experienced on the new Mayflower Hill campus and was responsible for two days of cancelled classes that February.