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Snowfall closes campus to non-essential personnel, though streak of classes continuing persists

Snow covers a courtyard surrounded by large stone buildings.
Snow blankets Whitman College courtyard.
Victoria Davies / The Daily Princetonian

Last week saw the first major snowfall of the year while classes were in session, with snowstorms occurring beginning the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 13 and continuing through the early hours of Saturday, Feb. 17.

A TigerAlert sent to the University community on Tuesday morning shared that the University would be closed for “non-essential personnel” until 7 p.m., though classes would continue as scheduled. With last week's snowfall disrupting some University operations, but not classes, The Daily Princetonian looked at what policies are in place for heavy snow — and what it would take for classes to be canceled, a rare event.


According to University Policy, essential employees “perform jobs that are necessary and required to maintain basic University operations” during closures. In an email to the ‘Prince’, University Spokesperson Jennifer Morrill wrote that Public Safety, Facilities, Campus Dining, and University Health Services are examples of some essential services.

For these essential employees, University policy dictates that they may have to perform jobs or duties that “fall outside of their normal job classification.” For example, more than 25 staff across Campus Grounds and Facilities Operations are responsible for clearing the snow and ensuring safety on roads, walkways, and stairs during these snowstorms. Depending on the severity of the storm, outside contractors may aid grounds crews in clearing snow and ice.

Morrill added that “a mix of overtime and some reduction or deferral of other duties in order to respond timely and keep the campus safe and passable” is necessary during winter weather. The University has more than 50 pieces of snow removal equipment, including trucks and utility vehicles with plows and other snow removal devices.

Alongside community safety, the University is responsible for determining whether classes will continue. 

Executive Vice President of the University Katie Callow-Wright, based on consultation from the Emergency Management Group’s weather team the night before a storm, decides whether classes will continue as usual. Representatives from the Office of the Dean of the College (ODOC) are also part of the discussion group, according to Morrill.

Other criteria used to make these recommendations include conditions in and around Princeton, travel bans, and the weather forecast for the Princeton area. According to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Severe Weather Delays and Closings, a primary consideration is the “safety of walking around campus.” This includes conditions of walkways and potential for branches or trees to fall.


Morrill shared that the weather team meets the night before and at 5 a.m. the day of a storm. Last Tuesday, an additional meeting was held at 9 a.m. The University released TigerAlerts — one sent at 5:51 a.m. and the other at 9:40 a.m. — with the first announcing that non-essential personnel should not report before 10:30 a.m. and the second extending this to 7 p.m., along with emphasizing that classes would continue as scheduled.

While snow affects Princeton frequently during the winter, classes are very rarely canceled on a University-wide basis due to heavy snowfall.

The last time that the ‘Prince’ reported that classes were canceled due to heavy snow was Feb. 2010, when Mercer County saw 17 inches of snow. At the time, previous University spokesperson Cass Cliatt ’96 noted that weather-related closings are rare. 

“We believe such a closing has happened only three other times in the past 16 years — in 1996 for a blizzard, in 2003 for heavy snow and blizzard conditions, and in April of 2007 because of heavy flooding in the region,” Cliatt said in an email to the 'Prince' at the time.

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While the University did not cancel class last week, continuing this 14-year streak of no campus-wide cancellation of classes due to snowfall, Princeton Public Schools were closed Friday, Jan. 19.

While classes were not canceled, students still made sure to make the most of the snow.

Emails sent from Heads of Colleges on Tuesday morning invited students to go sledding, “make snow memories, connect with friends, and celebrate the time of the year.” 

Students took these instructions to heart, and later on the same day, the “Great Princeton Snowball Fight of 2024” saw around 50 students gathering on Frist South Lawn. The snowball fight was advertised through an email sent via Hoagie Mail by Niv Leibowitz ’27.

"BE THERE," wrote Leibowitz in an email to the residential college listservs. The event was documented on Barstool Princeton.

An additional snowball fight occurred between members of Ivy Club, Cottage Club, and Tiger Inn earlier on Tuesday afternoon, while numerous snowmen were constructed up and down Prospect Avenue and across campus.

While no more snow is currently forecast within the next two weeks, weather conditions are expected to remain cold on campus for the foreseeable future.

Victoria Davies is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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