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Ohio State blows off wintry mixture

30 p.m. in 23-degree Fahrenheit temperatures with 23 mph gusts of wind, according to the National Weather Service on Wednesday.

After a “historic” winter storm blew across the Midwest into the Northeast Wednesday, tens of thousands of Franklin Country residents were without power, Columbus City Schools were closed for the second consecutive day and the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for 52 counties in Ohio.

Ohio State’s main campus was open.

“We had conference calls at 10:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. to discuss what the sidewalks and roads on campus looked like,” said Bob Armstrong, director of OSU Emergency Management and Fire Prevention. “We decided our crews should and would have enough time to clear all the campus streets and sidewalks.”

After OSU’s main campus closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, it reopened Wednesday while all branches remained closed.

“All the regional campuses are north of here, and received significant amounts of both ice and snow,” Armstrong said. “We happen to be lucky to have the resources of the City of Columbus that can help clear roadways around campus. You get to Lima and Wooster, and those kinds of resources aren’t there.”

Finances are not a factor in the decision to close the university, Armstrong said, adding that the university actually saves money when classes are canceled.

“When you cancel classes, you reduce the number of staff on campus, a lot of offices are shut down with the lights off and the heat set low, the phones aren’t making long-distance phone calls,” Armstrong said.

But Armstrong could not provide specific financial details and said the claim was based on information gathered several years ago by “an individual in risk management.”

OSU’s Office of Human Resources, of which risk management is listed as a service, did not know of any such research and could not confirm that OSU saves money when classes are canceled.

“I’ve been here for five years, and at no point have we discussed finances,” Armstrong said. “Our primary concern is the safety of the students, not money.”

Eileen Scahill, a spokesperson for the OSU Medical Center, said about 50 patients were evaluated in the center’s emergency room for weather-related injuries on Wednesday.

“A girl was bleeding from the head yesterday in my EEOB (Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology) 232 class because she fell on the ice,” said Patrick Talbott, a third-year in nutrition. “I think they should’ve canceled classes (Tuesday) and (Wednesday). I fell twice (Wednesday).”

Mary Lynn Readey, associate vice president for Facilities, Operations and Development, said the department blanketed campus in about 20 to 30 tons of salt Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to prevent slipping and to prepare campus to reopen.

“We have roughly 100 miles of roads and walkways to cover,” Readey said.

The university has used about 1,000 tons of salt so far this winter, which is about half of its reserves, Readey said.

FOD and Transportation and Parking crews worked from 3 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday to prevent the university from closing. FOD is in charge of clearing roads and sidewalks. Transportation and Parking is responsible for parking spaces.

“We have a truck and two gators to cover 23,000 surface parking spots,” Blouch said.

Transportation and Parking Executive Director Sarah Blouch said the university hired three contractors to help salt the large parking lots, such as West Campus’ Carmack lot, in time for students and faculty to arrive Wednesday morning.

Blouch said hiring the contractors was “not going to be cheap.”

“We won’t know until they submit the bill,” which Blouch said she expects later this week.

Gov. John Kasich said in a press conference Tuesday that getting ahead of the storm is important, but it’s also important not to blow the storm out of proportion.

“I would not define this as a cataclysmic storm, I would define this as a challenge,” Kasich said. “If there are things we need to do, we’ll do them, but we also don’t want to overreact to this. It’s important that we just handle this as it comes.”

Brian McGovern, a third-year in business, said if campus was going to be closed any day, it should have been Tuesday.

“Right when I went outside (Tuesday), I almost fell down a few times,” McGovern said. “I don’t think today has been that bad.”

Lindsey Dile, a third-year in consumer and family financial services, said she was hoping classes would be canceled Wednesday morning, but reality sank in when she woke up.

“When I got up and looked outside and saw my car was OK, it kind of told me it wasn’t going to be canceled,” Dile said.

According to American Electric Power’s outage map, 20,598 Franklin County customers were still without power at 7:47 p.m. Wednesday, and a wind advisory from the National Weather Service, with gusts measured at 51 mph at Port Columbus International Airport at 6:38 a.m., remained in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Accuweather reported Columbus’ high on Wednesday was 32 degrees, and the overnight low was projected to be 11.

The winter weather was part of huge system that paralyzed much of the Midwest, dumping more than 20 inches of snow on Chicago and causing Missouri to close its entire stretch of I-70 for the first time since its construction in the late 1960s, according to the News Tribune.

Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service, said the blizzard was “historic.”

“At one time we had blizzard warnings stretching from Oklahoma City to Detroit,” she said. “This has been a very significant winter, and again, it’s not over yet.”

Nick Otte, Daniel Helfand and Blake Williams contributed to this story.

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