The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Frozen over

Temperatures plunged this week, prompting the university to have all classes meet virtually on Tuesday.

The start of the spring semester has been frozen in its tracks. 

Following blizzard-like conditions over the weekend and facing dangerously low wind chills, the University of Northern Iowa made the call Sunday morning canceling in-person classes. The announcement noted that professors may choose to move classes online, and that supervisors should communicate to employees about working remotely.

“Please remain safe by staying home on Tuesday if you have not been identified as essential personnel,” the announcement read, sent via email and phone as a UNI Alert. “Current plans are for campus to resume normal operations and in-person instruction on Wednesday, January 17.”

On Tuesday, Black Hawk County was in a wind chill advisory with an afternoon high of 6 degrees and wind bringing temperatures between -10 and -20 degrees.

While students didn’t have to brave the cold for their first day of class, the weather impacted many students’ travels back to Cedar Falls. Several students came to campus early to beat the nearly 10 inches of snow that blanketed campus starting Thursday night and into the day Friday.

If we can’t assure ourselves that the students can come back safely, given the weather and given the road conditions, that weighs pretty heavily on the decision.

— José Herrera, UNI Provost

As Provost José Herrera and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs said, university officials have to take multiple variables into account when deciding whether to cancel in-person classes. 

“It’s mostly science but a little bit of art,” he said.

“We considered wind chill… How students will be able to get across campus in 10, 15 minutes,” he said. “But we also consider how well can students and their families get them back safely here to Cedar Falls, and that’s a big variable. If we can’t assure ourselves that the students can come back safely, given the weather and given the road conditions, that weighs pretty heavily on the decision.”

Herrera said that the decision comes down to himself and Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Michael Hager. The two of them use resources including the National Weather Service and Iowa Department of Transportation to monitor weather data and road conditions to inform their decision.

On Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service advised that in temperatures below -10 degrees, frostbite is possible in as little as 10 minutes. 

However, Herrera said that they also have to examine weather conditions on a case by case basis, or as he calls it, the “art” of the decision-making process. “If there’s sunshine, that changes things. If the wind is not as harsh or the gusts are not as big, that’s where a little bit of the art comes into play.”

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University canceled their Tuesday in-person classes as early as Friday, while UNI did not call a snow day until late Sunday morning. 

“We try to remain in line (with the other universities), but keep in mind that we want to give the students their money’s worth. Essentially we want to make sure if the weather allows…we want to give the students the best opportunity for learning, and we know that sometimes that has to be in face to face modality,” Herrera said.

“But we also know that there are expectations from students and families once Iowa and Iowa State move online they say, well, UNI should move online. Most of the time that’s true,” he said. “But as a reminder, both institutions are about 100 miles away, and 100 miles can make a lot of difference in the kinds of weather and the forecast that is being predicted for each of those locations.”

This Panther is certainly not in its natural habitat. Nearly 10 inches of snow fell in Cedar Falls starting last Thursday into Friday. (CAROLINE CHRISTENSEN)

UNI Facilities Management and grounds crews have been hard at work dealing with the snow and other weather-related incidents. 

“We’ve had about 18 staff working 12 hour shifts since last Tuesday to move snow,” Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities Management Michael Zwanziger said.

The crews were faced with a power outage on Saturday due to a failed transformer. Several campus buildings were affected, including Dancer, Bender and Lawther Hall, where some students had already moved in for the semester. The first outage occurred from around 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and the second around 6:30 p.m. The majority of campus buildings had power restored by 8:30 p.m., including all Housing and Dining facilities. 

“Our team worked through the night to replace the failed transformer, and all power was restored before 7 a.m.,” Zwanziger said. He said that it is unclear whether the power outage was weather related.

On Sunday, Roth residents faced a frozen water line that caused some water damage. The damage was “fairly minimal.”

For further updates on weather conditions at UNI, students can visit the National Weather Service at or

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