Winter storm brings headaches & fun to Institute

‘Nemo’ brought over two feet of snow to Cambridge and Boston, causing closures on Friday

Winter storm “Nemo” (as named by The Weather Channel) swept through Cambridge this past weekend, dumping 24.9 inches of snow and leaving much of New England in disarray. MIT was closed on Friday, on Saturday, and for the first two work shifts on Sunday. The storm was the fifth largest snowstorm to hit Boston in recorded history.

Winter storms are not officially named by the NOAA. “Nemo” is a moniker given by the Weather Channel, which has recently been naming blizzards to increase their own branding. The name has irked many in the weather business, but has caught on in local news, Facebook, and Twitter.

According to, Nemo’s strongest gust was recorded at 76 mph outside Logan Airport, but the general wind speed was much lower. The storm actually fell short of official blizzard conditions, which require a sustained wind speed of at least 35 mph while visibility conditions are less than a quarter mile.

The Huffington Post reported that over 650,000 homes and business in the northeast lost power due to the storm and thousands of flights were canceled around New England. Two people in Boston died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their cars due to the storm.

Despite the logistical nightmare the storm caused for the administration, Nemo was met with excitement from students. The cancellation of classes and the two feet of snow meant an extra long weekend for students to enjoy. A campus-wide snowball fight on Saturday afternoon — organized by Brendan T. Deveney ’13 and Amanda C. David ’13 of the UA Special Projects Committee, publicized by Course 6 administrator Anne Hunter — attracted around 400 students. Even President L. Rafael Reif made a brief appearance at the festivities (see photospread, p. 8).

Governor Deval Patrick issued a ban on motor vehicles starting on 4 p.m. Friday that lasted for 24 hours. This was the first statewide car ban since the legendary blizzard of 1978, which had a snowfall of 27.1 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The order was given for the safety of drivers, and so that roads could be easily cleared.

“I give a ton of credit to the governor,” Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 said, “It was a very smart move.”

Contributing to transportation limitations, the MBTA closed at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and did not resume operating until Sunday. A few trains ran on Sunday evening, but even on Monday not all lines were operational.

The lack of transportation meant campus staff who were working shifts on Friday were stranded at MIT. Dining halls were open, though with less staff than usual, and many dining workers in Maseeh and McCormick at least slept in those dorms on Friday night.

Cleaning up after Nemo required an enormous amount of coordination at MIT. Plows were out and about throughout the entire storm, and workers with shovels hovered around dormitories, ensuring that pathways remained clear. If you see a facilities worker, be sure to thank them!

MIT’s Outing Club (MITOC), saw a spike in snow gear rentals during the storm. “We ran out of skis!” said David Lawrence ’14, vice president of MITOC. A number of students picked up snowshoes and cross country skis for some urban exploration during Nemo. Thursday night, MITOC’s office hours were “super crowded,” Lawrence said, and the club rented out all 30 pairs of its cross-country skis.

“I rented a pair of skis myself and went out Friday around midnight,” Lawrence said, “I skied to Long Wharf in Boston Harbor and Back — all of the roads were in really great condition for skiing with fresh powder. It was great!”

“I wish they would empty the roads out more often after a snowstorm,” Lawrence laughed, “On Saturday I went skiing … on the Commonwealth Avenue mall. There were ski tracks in the mall, and a number of other cross country skiers out.”

Nemo caused the second cancellation of classes this academic year. “I don’t remember in my 38 years another time we’ve closed twice,” said Grimson, “Even just closing is rare. … We close when the governor asks us to.”

MIT initially didn’t close for the blizzard of 1978, recalls Grimson. “I remember it took me forever to get to campus,” he said. MIT was forced to close for the first week of classes once the storm picked up.