Public officials recently applied the label “polar vortex” to describe severe weather conditions sweeping across the U.S. Record-low temperatures caused hundreds of Midwest colleges to cancel classes and close facilities, leading to numerous difficulties for students — both at Concordia College and other institutions. From health risks due to the weather, to accessing safe transportation, or even just trying to get around campus, students in the heart of the polar vortex have faced significant difficulty in managing their daily lives.
At Concordia, students have encountered no shortage of adversity while attempting to stay safe, and the weather has presented multiple health risks to students walking around school. The College cancelled classes for the days of Jan. 30, Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 due to these dangerous conditions. Although some enjoyed the break, many did not appreciate having a gap in the middle of their scheduled curriculum.
“When you have two snow days in a week, it makes it a lot harder to keep up with classes,” said student Nathan Lyle. “I don’t have more homework, but I still feel really behind in some classes since I didn’t get to talk with my teacher or any classmates.”
Carter Weddell agreed with Lyle’s statement.
“Don’t get me wrong — I totally understand why we needed to close school. It’s just kind of hard to keep up when I couldn’t communicate in-person with my professors,” he said.
Despite the dangers present for students who live on-campus, this risk is heightened for those who live off-campus and must walk farther distances or wait for the MAT bus. Public officials across the country have warned those who go outside about the dangers of “instant frostbite.”
“These are VERY DANGEROUS conditions and can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes where wind chill values are below -50,” the National Weather Service tweeted on Jan. 29. “Best thing you can do is limit your time outside.”
Frostbite can occur at any temperature below freezing, but its rapid on-set during this weather can cause damage without the person even being aware.
“The circulation becomes impaired and the water in your tissue freezes, leading to tissue destruction,” said Peter Shearer, M.D., medical director of Emergency Medicine at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
Just as dangerous is the risk of contracting hypothermia, which has the potential to cause heart-failure and death. The cold can turn short walks to dining services, the library, or any other building on campus into a safety risk for students.
For students who are in wheelchairs — such as Noah Hanson — traveling through campus is much more difficult. He described how the icy conditions present a challenge to those who are disabled.
“This weather makes you appreciate when the sidewalks and paths aren’t covered in snow, because they normally allow me to be connected with events and people around campus. It’s a lot more difficult to get around when it’s icy out. I just want other people to not take that for granted,” he said.
“I can’t always go downtown or do other things off-campus, but at the same time, it definitely encourages me to be more connected with the people on my floor, like when we watch movies or play games. It’s almost relaxing to have that downtime.”
There are several dangers associated with this weather that students may not directly feel. For example, heavy snowfall from blizzards could lead students to become lost, which would further endanger them to catch hypothermia and frostbite. Another risk of injury is from icy pavement, which could present a safety hazard if a student were to fall and hurt themselves.
However, students may not be able to avoid accidents when traveling by car. Mike Huynh, a Concordia junior, was involved in two accidents while commuting to school—both of which occurred less than 24 hours apart.
“My friend was driving me to Concordia to guest speak for a class,” said Huynh while describing the first accident. “We were stopped at a crossroad when a semi-truck rear ended us. The road was icy, and the driver couldn’t stop fast enough.”
“The second accident happened the morning after,” he continued. “I was taking the bus to Concordia at around 7:20, and our bus hit the back of a car.”
Huynh was not hurt in either accident, but his computer was damaged, creating difficulty for him to do schoolwork. He pointed out a fault where the MATBUS system failed to appropriately accommodate their service to the weather, specifically in regard to customer service on their webpage. When the transit system decided to stop its buses earlier than scheduled, it did not update its page to reflect this change. This resulted in a number of people waiting for buses that never came.
“I would say that MATBUS is not really reactive when an inconvenience happens,” said Huynh.
Huynh’s experience reflects the endangerment that commuting students face during these conditions, and additionally how the city’s public services can be inadequately prepared to confront such weather.
The weather has dramatically affected students not just at Concordia, but all over the country. People have seen their means of transportation, academic structure, and recreational flexibility become severely limited. It’s most important however, that students take proper precautions to take care of their health and understand the risks that come attached with going outside during the polar vortex.