Changing response to bad weather leads to student confusion


Pu Ying Huang

Public relations and sociology senior Mina Ghobrial scrapes ice off his windshield with a TopGolf membership card while running his car Tuesday afternoon. Faculty and students saw its second day of canceled classes because of weather and road conditions.  

Julia Brouillette and Jordan Rudner

After releasing three separate decisions regarding University closure in less than eight hours, University officials apologized for any inconveniences the evolving inclement weather response caused.

Just before 4 a.m., students were notified that the University would remain open. Around 8:15 a.m., students were told classes had been canceled until noon. Shortly before noon, the University announced it would close completely.

“We’re very sorry for any trouble, inconvenience or problems that our students and employees faced related to our decisions,” read the statement, which was posted on the University’s official Tumblr. “We are always working to improve our processes and to learn from each incident. Clearly, that includes today’s episode.”

Though all morning classes were canceled, the notification came too late for the UT students who had already made their way to campus for their 8 a.m. classes. 

Akira Conley, an international relations and global studies junior who lives off campus, said she was frustrated by the lack of infrastructure and information.

“I drove right around Rio Grande around 7, and I walked to class at 7:45,” Conley said. “It kind of sucked — they hadn’t put any sand or salt down to get rid of the ice. People were literally crawling down 24th Street. My friend fell.”

Conley said her government class was not cut short when the University announced closures.

“We sat through the entire class because the professors weren’t informed about what was going on,” Conley said.

Director of media relations Gary Susswein said the multiple closure decisions were all based on continuously updated weather forecasts.

“The motivating factor here is the safety of our students, safety of our employees, safety of our professors,” Susswein said. “When the initial decision was made [to keep the University open], that was based on the best information we had at the time, including discussions with multiple meteorologists.”

Susswein said UT officials spoke with local government agencies and meteorologists at 3 a.m. Tuesday, as per University policy.

“The forecast did not anticipate these sorts of weather conditions,” Susswein said. “Obviously, we knew it was going to be cold, but, at that time, the best information we had was that rush hour would be clear.”

According to Austin Police Cpl. David Boyd, by noon, approximately 30 Austin roads had been closed. In total, APD forces responded to 274 collisions between midnight and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Boyd said conditions were comparable to Thursday evening’s ice storm, but there were more people out on the roads Tuesday than there were Thursday.

“The ice really didn’t start falling until the time when people started going to work this morning,” Boyd said. “So people didn’t know what was going to be coming down on the roads today until they actually got out there.”

UT Capital Metro Shuttles suspended service at 1:30 p.m. The Student Activities Center and Texas Union Building also shut down.

Austin Independent School District representatives announced a two-hour delay for all AISD schools Monday night. Classes were canceled altogether at 8:31 a.m. Tuesday.

In their 4:20 a.m. email, University communications officers asked supervisors to work with employees who have children enrolled in AISD schools.

Tuesday also marked the day of the runoff elections for House District 50 between Democrat Celia Israel and Republican Mike VanDeWalle. Individuals involved with the campaigns said the weather would affect voter turnout, which could have an impact on the outcome of the election. Ultimately, voting hours were extended by one hour. Israel defeated VanDeWalle with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Conley said the proximity of West Campus meant she felt safe driving, but she would not have felt safe travelling from other student-filled neighborhoods. 

“I wouldn’t have come if I had to drive up Dean Keeton,” Conley said. “That would’ve been a ‘no.’”