Tree clean-up and damage assessment continues following March snowstorms| Apr 2, 2018
After four late-winter nor’easters in a span of three weeks, University personnel were faced with widespread damage on campus in the form of fallen trees, broken branches, and scattered debris. While it is not particularly uncommon for storms to hit the Northeast so late in the season, the quick succession of storms, as well as the combination of wet snow and gales, led to unusually hazardous conditions on campus.
March saw four separate storms ravage the East Coast of the United States, including winter storms Riley and Skylar. However, the two most severe winter thunderstorms with heavy snowfall were Winter Storm Quinn, which cancelled all evening classes on March 7 and all classes before 10 a.m. on March 8, and Winter Storm Toby, which prompted a University-wide shutdown on March 21 while students were on spring break. According to the National Weather Service, Toby and Quinn each dumped over a foot of snow onto Princeton, with peak snowfall reaching three inches per hour.
In addition to the 15 trees that were brought down by the snow across campus, there were dozens of fallen branches from both coniferous and deciduous trees, according to Assistant Vice President for Communications Daniel Day. For comparison, Day said that Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in October 2012, felled a record 110 trees on campus.
This season, the trees that suffered the most damage were magnolias, especially in front of Campus Club, in addition to red maples and elms, which also experienced extensive snow accumulation, according to Devin Livi, associate director of facilities operations. Although there is no estimated cost of the damage, there were also no trees of notable or historic significance that were severely damaged during the winter storms.
During each of the storms, the University’s grounds and outdoor maintenance team continuously assessed conditions and prepared for cleanup efforts. Day wrote that, as with all approaching storms, University officials closely tracked the nor’easters’ developments. Full crews were on standby, ready to plow snow, clear walkways, and generally keep the campus safe. Despite the high unpredictability of these storms, Day wrote, “officials will hold a debriefing and make recommendations on improving procedures and responses to subsequent storms.”
Livi is in charge of 42 full-time employees who are responsible for pruning trees year-round, clearing catch basins prior to storms, filling sandbags, and ensuring the maintenance of equipment. Livi explained that during the storms, roadways, entrances, and walkways were kept continuously cleared for emergency vehicles and personnel.
“The crews always rise to the occasion and do a tremendous job trying to quickly make the campus safe for students, faculty, and staff,” he said.
In addition to Facilities, the University keeps three certified arborists and Certified Tree Experts on staff and works constantly with an outside company to assist with tree care year-round.
It is estimated that the entire clean-up effort required 1,800 hours of staff work, which involved cleaning up debris and removing damaged, potentially hazardous branches, according to Day. Even weeks after the storm, crews continue to survey the trees around campus for damage that was hidden until the snow melted.
“Our crews work very hard to prepare and to deploy to keep the campus safe, and we’re grateful for the work they do under difficult circumstances, before, during and after the snow flies,” Day wrote in an email statement.