A polar vortex is a low-pressure area that expands from the northern arctic and into the south, leading to an outbreak of cold temperatures. Last week brought these extreme conditions in full swing, leading to sub-zero temperatures and heavy winds across the Midwest.
The polar vortex on Wednesday, January 30 produced wind gusts up to 36 mph, had sustained winds of around 27 mph and a low of negative 13 degrees. This falls well below the historical average for the end of January in Anderson, which has hovered around a high of 35 degrees and a low of 20 degrees.
The decision to close the campus due to weather is a rare occurrence, and significant caution is taken regarding the safety of students and university employees. AU’s risk management team assesses situations that pose safety concerns and consult senior faculty including President John Pistole, Provost Marie Morris and Dean Chris Confer.“We want all of our students to be safe and secure at all times,” says Confer.
The decision to close the school was made late Monday afternoon after closely monitoring weather updates until the forecast was certain.
The official announcement that AU would be closed was made public on January 28 through a publication on the university’s website, which was then shared over social media and the local news.
Notification of the shutdown was disseminated to students through the Anderson U app on Tuesday.
The university offered shuttling services for students, consisting of four vans that ran students from residences to the Marketplace for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
While the campus itself was closed, university dormitories and apartments were still occupied, which left plenty of time for community building.
Concern for students brought some faculty members back to campus, to complete administrative tasks and check on the well-being of the students.
“I spent most of it with my wife and daughter as they also had the day off,” says Confer. “However, I did come to campus, and I walked through the halls to make sure that things were okay.”
Dr. Morris, who lives close to campus, also came to work in her office.
On the day of the shutdown, Resident Director Dillon Lockwood extended an impromptu invitation to residents of Fair Commons to join him in his apartment for pancakes, coffee and good company.
“I’m sure if people were in their rooms all day, they would feel restless unless they already had stuff planned,” said Lockwood. “I thought it would be really fun to open my apartment up.”
Lockwood has been looking for more ways to get involved with his residents, hoping to host more students in the future.
“I like making pancakes, so I sent an email to the whole building of Fair Commons. I had a movie going on in the background as well,” says Lockwood.
With the help of his RA staff, Lockwood shared tips in advance of the polar vortex for conquering the cold and preparing vehicles for the weather.
“We knew there was a storm coming up, and Ashleigh Allison reached out to me talking sending out some tips on how to safe, stay warm and keep your car in good shape during times like that,” he says.
This is the third such shutdown due to extreme cold since 2010, the last time that the university was closed for these conditions was almost exactly five years ago, on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.
Lockwood was a freshman living in Smith Hall at the time.
“I feel like it was a lot warmer in 2014 than it was this year,” he says. “I remember it being the colder the day we had classes than the day we didn’t.”
While Lockwood does not remember any organized activities in the dorm that year, he distinctly recalls the strong sense of community he had with his fourth floor peers, and the winter weather that brought them closer together.