Students share experiences in February record-breaking snowfall

Students struggle with shoveling, getting to class and work


Photo by Gabbie Hen

After a record-setting 53.7 inches of snow last month, February beat out Eau Claire’s month-long snowfall record of 35.3 inches.

Amara Hartmann is terrified of snakes. Hartmann, a fourth-year secondary education student at UW-Eau Claire, said everything about snakes truly disturbs her; she considers snakes to be her biggest fear.

Regardless of that, Hartmann said she would rather sit in a pit of snakes than drive in a snowstorm.

This is just the experience Hartmann had earlier this month, as she was forced to drive in the midst of a particularly nasty storm as she made her way home from her student teaching placement in Stanley. On what is typically a 45-minute drive, she spent double that amount of time driving home in the storm. Hartmann said she made a stop in Chippewa Falls, then later pulled into a gas station in Eau Claire out of fear that her car would get stuck in the snow.

“Driving and not being able to see was absolutely the scariest thing I have ever experienced,” Hartmann said, “and by the time I got off (the highway) and pulled into the gas station I was crying and way too panicked to drive anymore.”

Hartmann is not the only person experiencing problems with February’s way-above-average snowfall. Several local Eau Claire residents shared their stories and ordeals pertaining to last month’s snowfall. Some students took to UW-Eau Claire’s Facebook page to express concern after the university announced classes would still be held after Feb. 24, when the county declared a state of emergency.

After a record-setting 53.7 inches of snow last month, February beat out Eau Claire’s month-long snowfall record of 35.3 inches. Residents of the Chippewa Valley have spent ample amounts of time shoveling, getting their cars unstuck and helping their neighbors do the same.

Hartmann just got her driver’s license in December, making this her first Wisconsin winter on the roads.

“This was a bad winter to learn how to winter drive,” Hartmann said.

Kesinee Wiltrout, a fourth-year creative writing student, said she has struggled during each blizzard, as her bad knee makes it hard for her to walk on the uneven surfaces.

“Any form of ice underneath any of the snow, it’s just going to send me flying,” Wiltrout said. “I had a hard time walking places before snow, so to have the extra layer of slick underneath my feet makes it even more difficult.”

She said she’s found it just as hard to travel on foot, as by car — even considering the fact that her car has gotten stuck numerous times now, which has prevented her from attending classes on some occasions. Wiltrout said she feels more could be done by the university to ensure the grounds are more accessible for students who are injured or disabled.

Even when Wiltrout gets a ride from someone else, she still struggles to get out of the car and onto the sidewalk with the huge mounds of snow covering the curbs, she said.

“Most of the time people would just pull up to the curb, but I can’t get across to the curb because of the snow banks,” Wiltrout said. “… I would like to make sure the snow banks are lowered so I can at least step over them. Or at least making sure there’s a section of each block that can be pulled up next to, so you can see the curb.”

Shovel troubles

After Abby Baumtrog’s roommate spent eight hours attempting to dig her car out of the snow, the third-year organizational communication student and her other roommate joined the effort for an additional four hours. Baumtrog’s roommate, Valerie Zanotelli, was trying to get her car out in the hopes of getting to her student teaching job in Elk Mound, Baumtrog said

However, Baumtrog said the half-day of shoveling was to no avail, as Zanotelli ended up needing to get her car towed out of the driveway.

After the university posted a status about the success of the university grounds crew on the nearby roads and sidewalks, Baumtrog pointed out the lack of plowing and shoveling done in the Randall Park neighborhood.

“I get it, campus and Water Street sidewalks are plowed, but literally walk one block off Water Street and look at the streets and sidewalks,” Baumtrog said. “… I end up just walking in the street to get to class and just hoping I don’t get hit from behind.”

Recent UW-Eau Claire graduate Abby Stoppleworth said she has run out of places to put the snow in her yard when she shovels. Because of this, she and her roommates have resorted to piling the snow in the alleyway.

“We have nowhere to put the snow,” Stoppleworth said. “If we moved it to our yard, that would add an hour to our shoveling time. I think a lot of students face this living off campus, especially if landlords don’t help with the snow removal.”

Facebook comments

Some students took to Facebook after Feb. 24’s 12-inch snowfall to express their concern with, and anger towards, the university for not canceling classes.

“My street STILL isn’t plowed and I live a mile from campus,” one student wrote. “My car won’t move, the buses are jam-packed and the snow is up to my thighs. Ridiculous and you know it. Stop being so money hungry and think about the people that actually provide you with money.”

Another student pointed out the university’s lack of consideration in regards to the Eau Claire County declaring of a state of emergency after Feb. 24’s snowfall.

“Eau Claire county declared a state of emergency until Tuesday advising people specifically not to drive… but okay UWEC you do you girl,” one student commented.

Another student applauded the work of UW-Eau Claire’s grounds crew after the university posted a status acknowledging their success snow plowing and shoveling.

“I think it’s amazing that you’re doing all that you can around the clock to make campus safe, but I think you’re forgetting that the rest of the city isn’t able to keep up with the snow,” one student explained. “A lot of students (not to mention, faculty) have to drive to get to campus. So yes, it’s really great that you have worked so hard to make campus shoveled and plowed, but I think the bigger picture of the whole snow situation was missed.”

City not to blame

Despite the lack of plowing in residential areas, Amara Hartmann said she does not blame the city or the plow drivers for her problematic snow travel.

“Side street attention could be better; trying to get those cleared faster so that people like myself, that do live on those side streets, can get to where they need to go when they need to do,” she said. “But I’m really appreciative for what they (snow plow drivers) do.”

Wiltrout agreed that the snow plow drivers are not to blame in this situation. The snow has been falling at a quick rate, she said, and it’s impossible to keep up with the plowing.

With university grounds crew workers getting started on plowing and shoveling as early as 1 or 2 a.m., there’s only so much that can be done prior to classes beginning as early as 7 or 8 a.m.

Canceling classes

As previously reported in The Spectator, canceling university classes is no easy feat.

As (Chancellor James C. Schmidt) says,” said Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, “it’s very rare that we’re going to cancel classes. Students are paying tuition. We need to be respectful of the fact that they are paying for their instruction. We cannot, like K-12 schools, extend our academic year.”

Despite this, students are still given the option to stay home if they feel unsafe traveling in the snow. This doesn’t mean they’ll be exempt from the classwork they may miss while stuck at home, however.

While Hartmann is a student teacher and does not actively take classes at the university, she said she still believes something needs to be done for students to safely get to class — especially those who are traveling by car.

“I feel lucky to be in student teaching right now because (some days) I don’t have to go in because the roads are really, really bad,” Hartmann said. “… But the safety factor of (this weather) — it’s just knowing that’s an issue for students who are commuting.”

Wentland can be reached at [email protected].