City snow preparations stay constant post-Nemo

Yale and New Haven officials will not make major changes to their snow-related emergency response contingency plans for the coming winter.
Yale and New Haven officials will not make major changes to their snow-related emergency response contingency plans for the coming winter. Photo by Vivienne Zhang.

After Winter Storm Nemo blanketed New Haven in over three feet of snow last February and canceled two days of classes, questions have begun to swirl about whether Yale and the city are better prepared to respond to snow storms this year.

Despite the severity of last year’s storm, Yale and New Haven officials said that a blizzard of that magnitude is unlikely to hit again soon, and that they have not significantly altered emergency response contingency plans for major snow storms. Robert Smuts ’01, the city’s chief administrative officer, said that Nemo dropped the most snow on the city in one day since 1888.

“We have to be prepared for anything,” Smuts said. “But that’s not to say we’re going to invest millions of dollars for a storm that is unlikely to come in our lifetime.”

The tremendous amount of snow that the blizzard left proved too deep for regular plow trucks to handle — and the City struggled to clear its streets in a timely fashion. Yale canceled classes at the behest of city officials, who thought the reduced foot and vehicular traffic would ease plowing efforts.

So treacherous were the streets in the first two days that nine out of 12 of the city’s fire trucks were stuck in the snow following the storm, Smuts said. Emergency responders resorted to attaching payloaders in front of some emergency vehicles to plow through the snow — though the city only has four at its disposal.

“We even had ambulances that got stuck with patients in them,” said Smuts.

Still, Smuts said it would not be in the city’s economic interest to invest in expensive tools to plow a snow storm that would likely not come for decades.

At Yale, the blizzard prompted the University to re-examine its capacity to house and care for Yale staff, including dining hall workers, who could not travel back home due to the snow.

“We’ve bought more cots and toiletry kits,” said Maria Bouffard, Director of Emergency Management at Yale. “We want to be able to provide workers a comfortable place to sleep and rest.”

Still, Bouffard said the University’s response to the snowstorm went well. He said the University began preparing several days before the storm, and worked closely with New Haven management.

Yet both Smuts and Bouffard said the experience of Nemo will inform their response to future snowstorms of this magnitude.

“It was an extraordinary snow event, but with climate change, who knows what’s in store for us?” Smuts said. “We have to be prepared for anything.”

In case of a major snow storm, residential college emergency exits are among the first paths to be plowed.

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