Ready when needed
Cougs know winters on the Palouse can be harrowing.
February 2019 was especially so. WSU suspended operations on Feb. 11 due to winter weather and issued two‑hour delays twice, on Feb. 14 and 26.
Steve Holbrook – the heavy equipment supervisor for WSU Pullman’s Facilities Services – had scarcely a morning free from evaluating the conditions in the pre‑dawn hours.
“In my 15 years at WSU, February definitely stood out,” he said. “I only had a couple days off the entire month.”
No one knows yet what this winter will bring but more than two dozen full‑time and seasonal employees are ready to do their best to keep the Pullman campus as accessible as possible in the face of severe weather.
Early shifts begin at 4 a.m. starting Dec. 1 each year and run through the end of February. A crew member evaluates conditions on campus streets, parking lots and sidewalks before forwarding their report to the vice president of operations, Kate Kamerrer, for consideration of a possible delay or suspension or closure.
A bevy of equipment ranging from snow blowers to front‑end loaders and dump trucks are used to keep roads, sidewalks and parking lots as clear as possible when winter descends. Thousands of pounds of snow each year are hauled to isolated areas of campus such as the bottom of Forest Way or on Round Top Drive just before the Dodgen.
One of the first priorities for the heavy equipment crew in the midst or aftermath of a storm is ensuring the 220 handicap-accessible parking spots across campus are free of debris. If parking lots have three inches or more of standing snow, trucks equipped with plows will be dispatched. Meanwhile, grounds crews are tasked with keeping sidewalks clear and dispatching calcium chloride pellets and sand for traction. Having a lot of ground to cover means some stairways are closed before they can be shoveled by hand.
For campus roads, WSU crews have approximately 1500 tons of gravel at their disposal, which helps with grip better than sand. A liquid magnesium chloride solution sprayed by trucks with a 500 gallon tank mounted in the bed is used on the roadways rather than environmentally damaging road salt. Two 8,000 gallon tanks are primed and ready for the first major winter incident. Tool cats and other smaller equipment are used for sidewalks and ADA parking spaces.
If you’re looking for expert advice, the Pullman team has plenty of common sense suggestions gleaned from years of service.
The area around Nevada Street and Stadium Way, for example, is particularly treacherous during the winter, with steep hills thwarting those heading up the streets’ steep inclines. For motorists traveling to or from campus in the winter months, Holbrook recommends snow tires and planning for trips to take extra time.
“A bald set of tires is going to be a problem here in Pullman in the winter,” he said.
Alerts affecting the Pullman campus can be found on the alert.wsu.edu website or on the university’s official social media channels.
To sign up for emergency notifications, sign in at my.wsu.edu, click on the “Emergency information” box, click “Update now,” and complete the WSU student emergency notification form then click submit.
Corresponding links for WSU’s other campuses can be found below.
Anyone with comments or concerns about the Pullman campus can call the work management center at 509‑335‑9000.