While Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was cancelling schools for both Jan. 24 and 25 and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was declaring a state of emergency, 45 MIT workers labored around the clock for two days to pull MIT through the blizzard of 2005. The storm dumped more than 30 inches of snow on Cambridge.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, Grounds Services workers and volunteers from Mail Services, Custodial Services and Housing used a variety of equipment including four front loaders and five small dump trucks to plow, salt and sand. Somewhere between 20 and 25 tons of rock salt were used on MIT roads and bigger plazas, and 18,000 pounds of an environmentally safe, pink ice melt were scattered to try to make the roads and walkways throughout campus safe for passing, said Norman Magnuson, operations manager for Grounds Services. He and David McCormick, assistant director of operations for Facilities, managed the campus impact of the storm. All told, about 17 truckloads of snow were hauled off campus Sunday night and Monday.
"It's the type of campus that's open 24 hours a day, I think that's the biggest challenge," said Magnuson. "There's never an area of campus that we can let go. Believe me, at 2 o'clock in the morning it's as busy as 2 o'clock in the afternoon sometimes."
As a staff member of the Institute for 31 years and a supervisor with Grounds for eighteen, Magnuson has seen his share of snowstorms. "This is probably one of the top five storms that I can remember," said Magnuson. But it was not the worst. "During the Blizzard of 1978 we were here nine days straight," he said.
For busy workers, sleep was scarce, but some were able to grab a few winks in Building NW62 where beds were set up. Meal tickets were also provided for on-campus dining. Laverde's Market in the Student Center opened at 7 a.m. rather than the usual 8 a.m. on Sunday morning to accommodate the appetites of the hard workers.
"People were very grateful," said Laverde's manager Marc Semon. "We wanted to be here early for them."
As the weekend wore on, students found a variety of ways to avoid cabin fever. Scheduled activities like the weekend-long third annual Bad Ideas Competition on East Campus sponsored by the Large Event Fund (LEF), Weekends@MIT, DormCon, and the MIT Fund as well as the Lecture Series Committee (LSC) sponsored annual Science Fiction Marathon, went on as planned.
Schuyler Senft-Grupp helped construct a sauna on the East Campus (EC) courtyard during the Bad Ideas competition, which draws entries like last year's toaster that shot flaming toast six feet into the air.
"During the storm we had a barbecue, went sledding down the Building 32 [Stata Center] amphitheater, built a sauna in the EC courtyard, set up a hot tub in the EC courtyard, and had a group of people sleep out in a shelter they built out of old folding tables and some plastic," said Senft-Grupp. "We didn't let the snow stop us."
Senft-Grupp and others constructed a wading pool hot tub that seated 15 in the courtyard. The crew piped in hot water and many students used it as the snow began to fall. "We set it up in the courtyard now and then," said Senft-Grupp. "It easily fits 15 people, but I think even more than that went in over the course of the night."
Just as the snow began to fall in earnest, the six-movie science-fiction marathon got underway. Around 9 p.m., just before the second movie--2004's British zombie spoof, "Shaun of the Dead"--the group ordered pizza and spent the rest of the night watching another four movies. Those who emerged 10 hours later were greeted by more than two feet of snow.
"There was a big difference between when I went in and when I came out," said Katherine Lai, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science and chair of the LSC. "The event seemed to do okay despite the blizzard, but some people may have decided to go home a little earlier than they would have."
Many of those who did stay for the whole marathon were in it for the long haul, said Rob Radez of LSC . A few attendees showed up with sleeping bags and pillows. "It seemed like a bunch of people were concerned about getting home after," Radez said. "Most of the people who came did stay the whole night."
Some other students organized an impromptu midnight snowball fight for the East Campus courtyard on Sunday. "I just kind of wanted to have a big snowball fight, campus-wide," said freshman Amrita Masurkar who sent e-mails across campus, urging participation. "Only a couple of people showed up, but people were having fun."
As for the winter storm watch in effect for Jan. 26, Grounds Services is ready though slightly weary. "They like the work and feel like they're really providing an important service to the Institute, which they are," said Magnanson. "But it does get old after a while."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2005 (download PDF).