For four and a half days, snow assailed Charleston. Two winter storms caused College of Charleston to close its doors, and sanitation crews charged with cleaning up the mess worked diligently to keep the city on its feet. Charleston, however, is not well equipped to handle the icy conditions of these winter storms. Due to closed bridges, closed businesses and canceled classes, many people put activities on hold during the shutdowns waiting for the storm to pass.
This unusual winter weather personally affected students and faculty at the College of Charleston. David Hester, a senior at the College, claimed the announcement that campus would be closed on January 28th was rather sudden. “It wasn’t a planned day off,” he said. “I don’t think I did much of anything. I did a bit of research, listened to music – some A$AP Ferg – and hung out with friends.”
He wished to clarify that this wasn’t snow – it was ice. This was an important fact to know for students walking across campus, and especially for David himself, when making his way by foot down to Harris Teeter. David also remembered the last time it snowed in Charleston, four years ago. “I had to get up at 8am and go to work at Walgreens, and watch everyone else play in the snow,” he lamented. “By the time I was off work, everything was melted.”
According to David, the recent snow days were more enjoyable than the ones four years ago because they were more spontaneous and gave people an opportunity to get out and explore the city in the snow. He pointed out that, like last time, “the city wasn’t ready for this weather,” referencing the closed bridges and school delays after much of the ice had melted. His only true complaint was the sludge formed from the mixture of sand and ice on the sidewalks, but acknowledged that the sand was necessary to speed up the thawing process in the city.
Ultimately, he was glad to have the days off, but equally as glad when the city was back up and running again. David summed up his thoughts by saying: “[The snow days] slowed me down, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think we walk by beautiful things, like a leaf frozen in ice, all the time. It made me slow down and appreciate little things like that.” Many students would agree that the snow days gave them a chance to see the city differently and relax during the week.
The winter storms affected faculty as well as students. Professor Robert Dukes, of the Physics and Astronomy department, compared his experiences this time around with the last big snow storm in ’89. He said there’s “no comparison.” The snow and ice in ’89 was on the ground for 3-4 days, according to Professor Dukes, and this time it was only a few hours.
“In the last big snow storm,” he explained, “it was cold enough, long enough, that pipes all over the city froze.” He said he ended up under his house with a hair dryer trying to thaw out the pipes. The roads were impassable for the first couple of days, until they were finally cleared around Christmastime. It was a rare white Christmas for South Carolina, with the snow still there on Christmas Eve.
“The Cistern was beautiful, although most students didn’t get to see it, because it happened over winter break,” he said. In regards to the way the weather was handled, he said reactions were basically the same. In the past, the old bridges were used more frequently than they are now, and they were harder to drive on and harder to clear after winter storms. Dukes said the city “essentially hibernated for a couple days” and was “pretty well shut down” – much like this time. He advised readers that in the South it’s better no to go outside in that type of weather anyways, and to just stay in their houses.
“We don’t have the money to buy the infrastructure needed for an event that happens every 10 years,” he said. “The climate’s changing so perhaps these type of storms will become more common, and we’ll have to figure out to deal with them.” Professor Dukes said in about 10 years, they should be able to tell whether the climate is actually changing, or if this is just a temporary bump in the climate. Either way, he said, snow days allow people to spend time with their family and get caught up on work and that’s something good that can come out of a situation like this.
If this weather really results from long-term climate changes, and as these storms become more frequent, Southern cities will have to rethink how they manage such events. In the meantime, students and faculty alike can enjoy some rare days off before the city restarts and they have to get back to business.