Hurricane Florence ravages Southeast, affects Lexington weekend plans

Hurricane Florence had taken 14 lives and left nearly a million people without power as of Sunday morning


The radar for Lexington, Virginia, as of Sunday. Graphic courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sutton Travis

After monitoring the projected path of Hurricane Florence as it built over the Atlantic Ocean, Washington and Lee officially canceled Young Alumni Weekend on Sept. 10.

Executive Director of Alumni Affairs Beau Dudley said plans to reschedule the reunion event, which was originally to be held last weekend, are tentative.

“We’re going to try to figure out a good alternative, sort of a make-up type of event for [the alumni],” Dudley said. “We’re just starting to think that through.”

Dudley and his Alumni Affairs team held a joint meeting with several other university officials, including representatives from University Advancement, University Facilities, Dining Services and the university’s legal team, on Sept. 10 before making the decision to cancel Young Alumni Weekend.

At the time of the cancellation decision, Florence was expected to storm into the Lexington area as early as Friday. By midweek, Florence’s projected path began to shift away from Lexington.

According to a bulletin posted to the National Hurricane Center website at 11 p.m. on Saturday evening, Florence, which was, at that point, downgraded from a hurricane to a “tropical storm,” was continuing to rain heavily on southeastern North Carolina,

The bulletin reported the storm was moving west at about 3 mph and predicted Florence would make “a turn toward the northwest” on Sunday. For “west-central Virginia,” or the Lexington area, the bulletin predicted rainfall of 3 to 6 inches, and warned that this rainfall “will result in life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding.”

Dudley said that when making the deci- sion, the university officials realized that ensuring student safety was the univer- sity’s primary responsibility.

“If and when things get really ugly, the university’s first priority has to be student safety and service, whether that is power or food or safety or flooding,” Dudley said.

Mary Webster, associate director of engagement for Alumni Affairs, said that even as the forecast cleared for the early part of the weekend, she was glad the university made the decision to cancel Young Alumni Weekend.

“The first responses we got [after canceling] were people saying, ‘Thank you, you made the right decision,’” Webster said. “That’s been the majority of the responses.

I’m sure as the days have gone by, people are starting to regret that response. But it was the decision we had to make.”

The Alumni Affairs Office said that to their knowledge, this is the first case in the university’s history where an on-campus reunion weekend of this caliber has been cancelled.

“[A cancellation] may have happened before, but we can’t find any- body who remembers one,” Dudley said. “So that’s how unique this is.”

Webster estimated that about 650 people typically attend Young Alumni Weekend. All of the alumni who had already pre-registered for the event will receive a full refund of their registration fees.

After a 10-month planning process for Young Alumni Weekend, Webster and Dudley expressed their disappointment about to having to cancel the event.

“It’s very helpful for the university to have these younger alumni come back and re-engage with each other and with the campus, so we are really blue at having had to do this,” Dudley said. “It’s painful.”

Webster said she felt the most sympathy for the Class of 2013, which was supposed to have held its Fifth Year Reunion this year.

“Reunions are a big deal here,” Webster said. “I feel the most for those fifth reunions. This was their first official reunion. Plus, we wanted to see them. We were so excited about who was planning to come back.”

Ainsley Daigle, ‘13, and Steele Burrow, ‘13, had been working to plan for their class’s fifth year reunion since last fall. The two head up the official Five Year Reunion Committee, which worked closely with Webster and several of their fellow classmates to prepare for Young Alumni Weekend.

Daigle said that when the university canceled the event, she couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“It’s especially tough, because when I was watching the news this morning, it looked like the storm was literally curving around Lexington, almost comically so,” Daigle said. “I understand how difficult these decisions can be, and I just hate that this storm came at the time it did.”

But Burrow said plans are already in the works for an improvised make-up reunion. He mentioned the springtime Alumni Weekend, which is scheduled for May 2-5, as one possibility.

“The Fifth Year Reunion is one of the best parts of life as a young alum, especially at a place like W&L that has such a tight knit community,” Burrow said. “Canceling it outright isn’t really an option.”