North Jersey found itself paralyzed on Nov. 15 following a winter storm that hit the Northeast region much harder than officials had initially predicted.
The storm dropped between six to eight inches of snow across northern New Jersey, according to NJ.com. The winter weather resulted in severe traffic along major and local roads during rush-hour and ignited a backlash against state and local officials for their lack of preparation for the storm, which initially was only expected to bring a dusting of snow, along with freezing rain.
The snow created a political headache for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been lambasted by commuters and lawmakers in the days since for the state’s botched response to the snow. In a Nov. 16 press conference, Murphy railed against forecasters for dropping the ball and made no apologies for the state’s clean up effort.
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me, period. Part of this is the forecasts were lousy, and I’m not gonna let the forecasters off the hook,” Murphy said. “Secondly, this is a regional event. New Jersey didn’t get singled out. This whole region got crushed.”
Alexandra Garcia, a senior criminal justice major, recalled the first time she experienced a real winter storm when she visited Seton Hall as a high school senior. “Coming from California, I had never visited the East Coast before,” Garcia said.
Garcia said she was very surprised when she got to experience what 10-degree weather felt like and thought it was insane. She said that although it snows in some parts of California, it is nothing compared to New Jersey snow days.
Garcia advised students who are preparing for their first “real” winter to wear layers. “I had to learn the hard way how important this is to keep warm,” she said. “Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice on what to wear.”
Seton Hall’s preparations for the storm also appeared to be inadequate for the amount of snowfall South Orange ultimately saw, with some student commuters saying it took them over an hour to get from the parking garage to the Ward and Main Gates, a distance just over a quarter mile, due to on-campus traffic.
Director of Seton Hall’s Department of Public Safety Pat Linfante said in an email to The Setonian that the University was “as always, prepared for the snowstorm.
Linfante said that “it always takes a little longer to exit campus when the entire community is dismissed at the same time.” He added that the failure to treat or plow the roads off-campus worsened the already messy situation and caused backups at both gates, which thereby extended to Seton Drive, the roadway that extends through campus.
The issues for student and faculty commuters didn’t stop once they left campus, though, with several being forced to wait in miles of traffic that clogged major highways and local access roads alike, as well as causing numerous NJ Transit delays and cancellations.
One such student, Nicolle Spadafina, a freshman going into Occupational Therapy, detailed her harrowing commute from campus to her hometown of Rockaway, NJ — usually a 45-minute drive.
“My experience on the road was probably one of the most frightening experiences in my life. People would be stuck at traffic lights for up to an hour just to turn one corner. The threat of my phone dying lasted for 5-7 hours as I was initially using it as a GPS to get home,” she recounted.
Spadafina said she arrived at the parking deck to depart campus around 3:15 pm, just after the Pirate Alert closing the University had gone out to students and faculty. From there she said it took her over an hour to get through the front gate of the school. The traffic on Interstate 280 was so bad that she was eventually forced to retreat into the West Orange Police Station for shelter while plows cleared the roads.
Spadafina was, ironically enough, sheltered with another Seton Hall Pirate: Bursar Catherine Winterfield, who allowed Spadafina to use her phone to call her parents and eventually gave her a ride home.
It wasn’t until 4:00 am that Spadafina finally reached her bed, turning what is usually a journey of less than an hour into a 13-hour ordeal.
“While I am slightly disappointed with the delay [from the state] in preparing the roads I feel as though this storm took everyone by surprise,” she said of the conditions that day. “We all thought this would be a little 1-3 inch snow storm. Unfortunately, there was a lot more snow than we expected and it fell a lot faster.”
As to the University’s response to the weather, Spadafina remarked that she wished that the University had closed earlier than 3:00 pm to give students the opportunity to get home before the roads had become inundated with snow and travelers. “I felt it should have been more like 1:00 or 2:00,” she said.
Other commuter students around campus echoed Spadafina’s sentiments.
Brittany Setaro, a senior social and behavioral science major, said she thought that the university should have canceled school sooner than it did. Setaro said that the university should have considered the people driving home, who were stuck in the snow for hours and did not get home until late at night because they had to leave school later rather than earlier.
Setaro shared how she struggled on her commute back to West Caldwell. “I learned that SHU has a terrible protocol for snow clearance, considering I was stuck in the snow for an hour and a half because they shoveled the sidewalk, not the ramp,” Setaro said.
Laura Sorrentino, a junior double majoring in Management and Marketing also complained of the state government’s failure to prepare for the weather in advance. “The storm wasn’t a surprise,” she remarked. “Regardless of how bad it was and the roads should’ve been taken care of sooner.”
Sorrentino, who lives just a few minutes away by car in South Orange, added that she too felt that the University should have been closed long before 3:00 pm.
“I personally was let out of class early by a professor but stayed on campus because I had a test later in the day I had to be on campus for,” she said. “By the time the school closed it was already too difficult for me to get home, to a point where I just slept in a friend’s dorm
Nathan O’Neil, a senior journalism major, was not concerned about the winter storm until he left school and his car lost traction right outside the main gate.
O’Neil said as a Branchburg resident, his normal 45-minute commute ended up taking four and a half hours. “I think the storm surprised everyone, so I do not blame the school,” O’Neil said. “But they could erred on the side of caution especially since there are so many commuters.”
Ian Cherry, a junior art, design and interactive media major, said he believes that it is better that the university cancels classes when the weather gets worse rather than for a student to risk death attempting to arrive on campus.
Originally from Apple Valley, California, Cherry shared his learning experience about preparing for colder weather. “I have learned to always have a good pair of winter-weight boots available,” Cherry said.
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Alexa Coughlin can be reached at email@example.com.