Pamela McDowell, director of residence life, remembers a tornado that touched down near Carleton several years ago. Despite the warning sirens that told of a coming storm, some students stood outside, watching for the storm. But once the storm touched down, "all the students scattered," McDowell said.
Fred Behr, director of Public Safety, observed similar behavior.
"Do they [students] stand out there and watch the storm?" Behr said. "Yes, they do."
Despite the clear and present danger of the weather that day, students who chose to stay outside during the storm made a choice, McDowell said.
"Everyone who lives here is an adult," she said. "We can't force people to make safe choices all the time."
McDowell emphasized that no Residence Life staff member, Public Safety officer or college official can force a student to take shelter during an extreme weather situation.
"There is no employee on this campus that will force a student to seek shelter," McDowell said.
Students are advised to immediately take shelter when they hear the sirens warning of approaching bad weather. Residence Life employees, including resident assistants and junior counselors, will go around a residence hall to make sure students know what is going on. They will also activate a calling tree to other residence halls to make sure those in other residence halls are aware of the situation.
Public Safety will then patrol the campus to warn those who have not sought shelter.
"We try and encourage them to go inside," Behr said. He, too, reiterated that no one will force a student to seek shelter.
Other weather conditions can also pose a threat to students. McDowell stressed that high winds can blow windows shut, especially on the upper floors of Mohn and Larson.
She warned that these windows can break, posing a broken glass hazard. McDowell also stressed the importance of closing windows during rain storms with high winds to minimize leakages.
Blizzards and ice storms can also be problematic. While generally the college does not call "snow days" because St. Olaf is not a large commuter college, it will advise students of large winter storms on the way. If a storm is coming, Residence Life staff will post warning signs in the residence halls.
Residence Life and Public Safety also take special concern when ice storms and other extreme weather occur around breaks when students may be traveling. Should the weather be severe enough, residence halls would stay open during Christmas and Spring Breaks to let students wait out the storm.
"Nowhere is so important to get to that it is worth the risk," McDowell said.
McDowell also advised that students who do choose to travel during extreme weather prepare for the worst. She suggested taking extra blankets and food and preparing to spend the night in the car if stranded.
She pointed out that cell phones might not be useful all the time as service can be spotty in rural areas.
Behr agreed with McDowell and added his own advice. He suggested that, while Public Safety can help students with their cars during the winter, there are things students can do to help themselves.
"Students can do preventative maintenance before winter," Behr said.
McDowell and Behr each advised that students watch the news and weather websites such as weather.com for updates.
"I realize how little people pay attention to the weather," McDowell said. Both Public Safety and Residence Life watch the weather so that they can properly warn and prepare students and staff for potentially hazardous weather.