Duke Weathers Major Ice Storm

January 31, 2003
Duke Chapel in the snow.
Photos: Jon Gardiner
East Campus in the snow.
Duke Campus in the snow.

While an ice storm on December 4 wiped out power to most of the Triangle, Duke managed to keep campus life relatively normal--though it did cancel classes for one day. Since the university has an underground power grid, the campus did not lose electricity or heat when the storm hit, says Glenn Reynolds, associate director of systems and engineering services for Duke's Facilities Management Department.

Campus residence halls were unaffected by the icy weather, says Larry Moneta, vice president of Student Affairs; Eddie Hull, director of Residence Life and Housing Services says that "all services were available to our students and we're very happy to be able to say that given the weather conditions."

Student Affairs administrators closely monitored the situation for students who live in off-campus apartments and houses, where much of the community remained without electricity, Moneta says. The office was in touch with those students, working to determine how best to serve their needs.

Many in the community took advantage of the dining facilities on campus, generating record sales, says Jim Wulforst, director of Dining Services. "Anybody who wants to come in from the greater Durham community is welcome to dine with us," he stated during the crisis. Dining Services also coordinated with the city to feed Durham city employees and the Durham police officers on campus. "This was something we were happy to work out," he says. Duke also provided hot food to scores of road-crew members.

A long-standing procedure for handling severe weather--including a pick-up and drop-off service for dining-service employees--enabled Wulforst and his staff to keep nearly all operations open. In addition, most of the vendors who deliver food to students' rooms were operating, and the three campus grocery stores remained open.

The Intramural Building on West Campus was opened to provide shelter to Durham residents with special needs. Dining Services' director Wulforst personally lugged bagels, deli sandwiches, pizzas, and a variety of hot foods, as well as bottled water, soft drinks, and coffee to the building. Sue Coon, dean of student activities, sent over televisions to help break the monotony. John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, remained at the site much of the time. Susan Epstein and Lloyd Michener of Community and Family Medicine recruited volunteers from their department, as well as the Physician Assistant Program, the nursing school, and the medical school, to aid the nurses sent by the county and the Emergency Medical Services. Physician Kathy Andolsek spent the night at the makeshift shelter.

Some outlying buildings not on the grid were without power. Generators provided power at the Primate Center, a research facility located on the perimeter of campus.

The news was not good at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which had to be closed for nearly a week. "This is the worst damage we've ever seen," says Greg Nace, associate director of horticulture for the gardens. "It's worse than Hurricane Fran. It's the worst ice storm anyone here has ever experienced. We've seen damage in the gardens before, but nothing on this scale." Gardens officials closed the facility after the first night of the storm because of the danger posed by ice-laden trees and limbs that continued to crash down for several days due to thawing and freezing cycles. Four crews worked for weeks cutting down trees and clearing dangerous limbs and toppled oaks on the pathways and in the forested areas. By mid-January, three crews were working, with about 90 percent of the clearing completed, says Nace. Damages cost approximately $100,000, he says.

Walking trails through Duke Forest were closed for more than a month while potentially hazardous debris was removed.