Slippery streets force campus to close early

Lauren Biggs was in Intermezzo yesterday shortly after 2 p.m., studying for a 3:30 exam without knowing it had already been canceled.

“I had a busy day today,” said Biggs, a classics and history senior. “I had a club meeting, a lecture and then work tonight.”

Icy conditions prompted UK to cancel classes from 2 p.m. on yesterday and caused dangerous situations for students and faculty commuting to and from campus.

The National Weather Service issued a warning at 8:22 a.m. advising people to avoid traveling if possible. After several accidents were reported in counties surrounding Lexington due to the same conditions that were expected to hit the city, the only logical decision was to cancel classes, said Christy Giles, director of Emergency Management at UK.

It was the second time this year UK canceled classes. The first was a two-hour delay last week due to snow.

“This weather year is completely out of the ordinary,” Giles said. “It is not common for the university to shut down.”

Despite the warning to avoid traveling, Daniel Legg, an electrical engineering sophomore, drove 85 miles to get to class yesterday, only to discover his first class, at 2 p.m., had been canceled.

He checked to see if there would still be classes before he left his Cincinnati-area home, but UK’s administration did not make cancellations until he had already arrived in Lexington. Legg said although he was frustrated about driving all the way to Lexington and concerned about road conditions, he would go ahead and drive back before the ice began accumulating.

Students subscribed to the UK Alert system received phone calls, e-mails and text messages beginning at 1:50 p.m., Giles said. By 2:11 p.m., her office had sent out 9,320 phone calls, and 3,878 e-mails and text messages.

The decision of whether to cancel classes today was made early this morning after UK officials analyzed weather conditions by making checks on roads, sidewalks and parking lots beginning at 4 a.m., Giles said yesterday.

A warm front from the south was to blame for the inclement weather, according to the National Weather Service.

The precipitation in Central Kentucky and Southern Indiana fell as rain, but when it hit the cold surface below the warm air, it froze on contact, causing an ice storm, said Tom Priddy, UK Extension and Research Agriculture meteorologist.

That freezing process is comparable to a February 2003 ice storm that snapped trees and weighed down power lines, leaving Lexington without power for weeks, Priddy said.

The outcome today should not be as drastic, he said. Although about a quarter of an inch of ice was predicted to fall last night, it is only about half the amount of ice that covered the city five years ago.

The ice storm warning issued for Fayette County yesterday morning continued through 9 a.m. today, with freezing rain that began early yesterday afternoon expected to continue into early this morning. Although warming temperatures were predicted to change the wintry mix to rain sometime after midnight, National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordan said the resulting conditions would be “treacherous.”

Power outages and falling tree branches are a particular danger, because the trees and power lines were already stressed from the ice accumulation that came a few weeks ago, according to the National Weather Service warning.

“We expect between a tenth and quarter inch of ice from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.,” Gordan said. “So (this) morning could be an icecapade as well.”

Staff writer Alice Haymond contributed to this story.