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Battles and Badgers and Blizzards, Oh My!

Campus snow days are rare — but not as rare as you think.

Chelsea Rademacher ’13
January 14, 2015

UW-Madison Snow Days: A Brief History

The wind on that December morning may have been biting, but tensions were hotter than a lighted match. The near-synchronized thump of marching footsteps rang through lower campus as legions of students descended from their residence halls and ascended Bascom Hill. Hordes of Southeasterners flanked the south slope, as the Lakeshore Army braced for impact. A single cry pierced the air.

The Battle for Bascom had begun.

On December 9, 2009, campus closed due to a blizzard, and students celebrated with a massive snowball fight. And a celebration was in order — campus has seen only eight snow days in the last 50 years.

No Luck from the Irish

They say March comes in like a lion, and March of 1965 was no exception. Under Chancellor Robben Wright Fleming, UW campus cancelled all classes and activities on March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – for the first time in recorded campus history. In addition to more than half a foot of snow, record high temperatures turned precipitation into freezing rain. Though we’re guessing that impassable conditions didn’t deter students from celebrating St. Patty’s Day, even if they had to ice skate down State Street.

Brilliant, Gov’na

At 10 a.m. on January 26, 1978, the governor’s office called for the cancellation of all classes. However, it wasn’t until 2:30 p.m. that the chancellor’s office made the announcement official. Madison saw around six inches of snow, as well as wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. This storm wracked most of the Great Lakes region, earning the name “The Great Blizzard of ’78.”

Big Hair, Bigger Winds

It took another decade before campus would be snowed out again. On December 15, 1987, campus closed at 2:30 following 13 inches of snowfall and wind gusts up to 17 miles per hour.

Record-Setter

On December 3, 1990, Chancellor Donna Shalala cancelled classes first thing in the morning. Within 24 hours, Madison saw more than 17 inches of snow, setting the city record for the most snowfall in one day. Thanks to some brave Badgers, we have video evidence of the 1990 snow day, complete with students skiing down Bascom.

Always Pack a Snack

Almost two decades would pass before students got another break, this time in the spring semester of 2008. On February 6, campus closed at 3:30pm due to wind gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour, accompanied by 10 to 21 inches of snow across the Madison area. The massive snowfall coupled with destructive winds caused a major traffic jam on I-39/90 west near Madison, which lasted between 10 and 20 hours.

The Battle

Chalk it up to global warming, but after just five snow days in four decades, students of the 2000s got lucky. A major snowstorm started in the evening on December 8, 2009, and students took to Twitter to ask Chancellor Biddy Martin PhD’85 if she would cancel classes the following day. Martin famously confirmed the snow day around 7:45 p.m. via Twitter, and the celebration started promptly at 7:46. The first Battle for Bascom commenced bright and early on the morning of December 9.

Battle for Bascom: The Sequel

Chancellor Martin earned high praise from the student body when, just three semesters later, she called for another snow day. The Battle started all over again on February 2, 2011. This snowstorm dumped around two feet of snow on campus, and gusts from 40 to 60 miles per hour completely shut down I-94 and I-43.

A Holiday Miracle

Biddy was at it again. But this time, she did something no chancellor had ever done before: she cancelled exams. On Wednesday night of finals week, university officials announced that campus would be closed on December 20, 2012, and all in-person tests would be cancelled. While some professors chose to send out take-home exams, others ended the semester with the students’ current grades — a decision that met both positive and negative feedback.

While previous students had a shot at a snow day once in a decade, the classes of 2012 and 2013 had three. Is it climate change? Is it because millenials never had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways? We may never know. But not even a blizzard can put a freeze on the Badger spirit.

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