It was a slippery, frigid and icy Tuesday for the ACU community after a sudden sweep of cold weather, sleet, freezing rain and ice on Abilene’s roads caused university officials to close down the campus for the first time in more than two years.
An Arctic cold front came through the area Monday, causing temperatures in Abilene to drop below freezing and stay in the mid-20s. The freezing temperatures mixed with moisture that originated from the Gulf of Mexico and created the sleet and freezing rain that caused the day’s hazardous and slippery conditions.
“You just don’t see this very often,” said Patrick McCullough, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo. “We only get a little bit of ice and snow every year, but it doesn’t take much ice to create some real travel issues.”
The last time ACU closed down its campus because of snow and ice was on Nov. 30, 2006, when a snow storm prompted university officials to cancel the school day and close all campus offices.
McCullough said more than one fourth of an inch of ice covered Abilene’s roads Tuesday, and up to one fourth of an inch of ice and sleet is expected to fall from the sky Tuesday evening. Things will thaw by Wednesday afternoon, when temperatures are expected to reach as high as 50 degrees.
“Looks like it’s only going to get icier,” McCullough said. “But I think the upper level storm system will push on through in the morning, and we might even see a little bit of a sunshine by the afternoon.”
The possibility of travel danger for students, faculty and staff prompted university officials to cancel all classes Tuesday and close all campus offices for the day. The ACU Police Department sent a campus-wide e-mail, more than 2,900 text messages on the ACU ALERT system and notified all local television and radio stations of the decision to shut down the campus.
ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison said his department began keeping an eye on the weather at 11 p.m. Monday night when freezing rain and sleet began falling from the West Texas sky. Officials checked conditions again early Tuesday morning and after first postponing classes until 9:30 a.m., several campus offices voted to shut down the campus. Ellison said it was a group decision by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the Student Life office, the Human Resources department and the ACUPD.
Although the campus’ offices and classrooms were empty, the “World Famous” Bean and the Hilton Food Court were open as usual. The Brown Library closed at noon on Tuesday.
“We make the best decision we can make as a committee based on weather and the conditions that might develop,” Ellison said. “Our concern is making sure everyone is safe.”
The National Weather Service in San Angelo issued a winter storm warning for Abilene, Rotan, Roby, Sweetwater, Haskell, Throckmorton, Woodson, Stamford Anson, Hamlin and Albany. The more than 20 counties in the National Weather Service in San Angelo’s area were all put on watch for hazardous weather.
In addition to ACU, the Abilene Independent School District, Wylie Independent School District, Cisco Junior College, McMurry University and Hardin-Simmons University also closed their campuses.
Temperatures dipped as low as 21 degrees Fahrenheit and are not expected to rise until Wednesday.
Leah Bouteller, freshman elementary education major from Baltimore, said after finding out the school day was cancelled, she went back to sleep and took a four hour nap and did not wake until around 2:30 p.m.
“I love the weather, but I slipped on the sidewalk and I didn’t really like that,” Bouteller said. “We don’t ever have anything like this. From 8th grade to my senior year, we only had two ice days.”
Margaret Moore, freshman secondary education/youth and family ministries major from Houston, said she and her friends were sliding around on the ice, but trying not to fall. On her day off, she said she planned on doing homework and hanging out.
The Houston native said Tuesday’s weather was different from the conditions back home and was probably the coldest she ever experienced.
“I just saw snow for the first time on a debate trip last weekend, so all this ice is new to me,” Moore said.
Daniel Johnson-Kim, Michael Freeman and Molly Byrd contributed to this report.
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