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Tips for navigating a wintry campus

Snow time is showtime for UW Facilities
a snow plow clears snow in front of Suzzallo library

A UW Facilities staff member clears snow in front of Suzzallo Library in December 2021. April Hong/University of Washington

With Thanksgiving over, fall has given way to winter, as if on cue. The Puget Sound region has already seen snow, sleet, rain mixed with snow, hail and more — and the winter wonderland won’t end there. Experts are saying it’ll be another La Niña winter, which means wetter, colder weather predicted through February.

Whatever happens, UW Facilities is here to make sure the UW community can navigate campus safely. When a major snow event happens, dozens of UWF employees go into action:

staff shovels snow

UW Facilities staff work to keep campus safe and operational during snow events.

Grounds operations staff from Maintenance & Construction plow the roads and clear pathways leading to buildings, where entrances are then swept by custodians from the Building Services Department. Transportation Services staff keep parking lots and garages accessible, shutting down certain spaces as needed for safety. A cross-department team meets twice daily to coordinate and to keep University leadership informed about the conditions on the ground.

These front-line staff are supported behind the scenes by efforts from other UW Facilities staff. Large piles of sand and de-icer stand ready thanks to UWF’s Procurement and Sourcing team, while the IT department maintains the Snow Removal Progress map that shows the accessibility of campus roads, sidewalks and parking lots. 

UW Facilities is working to keep the University safe and operational, but it’s important that we each look out for our own safety, as conditions may change suddenly. Here are tips for navigating campus during a snow event.

Stay informed

Sign up for UW Alerts to stay informed about disruptions to normal University operations. UW Emergency Management has information related to winter storm preparedness, including tips and a list of resources. The City of Seattle Department of Transportation has a list of winter safety tips and resources as well.

If you are coming to campus, an important tool you can use is the Snow Removal Progress map, where you can find out the status of roads, sidewalks and parking lots. Understanding where snow has been removed from different parts of campus can ease frustration and help you stay safe. Please note that while the map is updated in real time by staff doing the work of snow removal, snow conditions are ever-changing so the map should be used as guidance, not a guarantee.

Use caution walking on campus

Walkways and stairwells can become slippery, so give yourself extra time to get where you’re going. Observe boundaries and restricted areas. Do not attempt to cross areas of campus where caution tape, barricades or signage have been posted as these areas may be notably slippery and dangerous.

snowy ground with a sign that reads 'slippery'

Pay attention to signage when navigating campus during a snow event. April Hong/University of Washington

Follow these tips from UW Environmental Health & Safety:

  • Wear footwear with good traction and insulation. Avoid boots and shoes with smooth soles and heels. Consider using snow/ice grippers (such as Yaktrax) for your shoes.
  • Assume that wet, dark pavement areas may be slippery or icy.
  • Take shorter steps and walk at a slower pace.
  • Hold onto handrails when using stairs.
  • Do not do anything distracting while walking, such as using a phone.
  • Take special care when stepping in and out of vehicles.
  • Use extreme caution when stepping off curbs and walking up steep slopes.
  • Keep your hands free to catch yourself if you fall.

Stay up to date on changes to transit and shuttles

During inclement weather, transit agencies will often operate on snow routes and schedules. Familiarize yourself ahead of time with these plans and sign up for alerts for your route so you know when and if your bus is on a snow route or is running late. 

people walking toward bus on street with W flags

During a snow event, your bus may be operating on snow routes and schedules.

Get started by going to the alerts page for your transit agency:

Transportation Services works hard to maintain shuttle service even during inclement weather, but staffing and safety conditions may affect routes and schedule times. Impacts to shuttle services are posted on the Transportation Services website and the Shuttle alerts & updates webpage. You can also follow our UW Shuttles Twitter page for rider alerts and subscribe to alerts for the most common routes:

Be mindful of conditions if driving or parking

During inclement weather, ice (especially black ice), rain, fog, leaves, debris and oil may lead to slippery road conditions. As you travel through campus, turn on your headlights in low visibility and keep a special eye out for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as other vehicles. Slow down and allow yourself more time to get to your next location.

Parking lots and garages can become especially slick during winter, so use extreme caution when driving in them. In severe weather conditions, only certain levels of some UW lots and garages may be open, as Transportation Services teams prioritize re-opening facilities across campus. If top levels of garages are closed, please observe this restriction.

Refer to onsite signage for lot closure instructions and relocation directions or visit a campus gatehouse. The UW Transportation Services homepage also lists closures, re-routes and parking information. Conditions can change quickly, however, so you should always use your best judgment as well.

For additional winter driving safety tips, visit the Washington State Department of Transportation.