Campus History

4 Snowiest Snow Days

Students participate in a snowball fight on Bascom Hill.

Jeff Miller

The city of Madison has an average annual snowfall of 53 inches — nearly four and a half feet — which spans seven months of the year. Madison’s record-breaking season in 2007–08 saw a whopping 101.4 inches dumped on the city. If the numbers don’t speak for themselves, just ask anyone who’s endured a Wisconsin winter — it’s a very snowy place. Which is why you may find it surprising that, in the past 50 years (52, to be exact), UW–Madison has shut down completely for snow just four times.

The St. Patrick’s Day Blizzard

March 17, 1965 Storm total of 6.9 inches

Chancellor Robben Fleming LLB’41 canceled classes, which proved to be prescient when the day’s record-high temperatures caused the snow to turn into freezing rain.

The Inaugural Battle

December 8, 2009 14.1 inches in 48 hours

As snow began to pummel campus the evening prior, students asked Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin PhD’85 on Twitter if she would cancel classes. At 7:45 p.m. the chancellor tweeted that all classes and operations the next day would be canceled. And at 7:46 p.m., students began planning for the inaugural “Battle for Bascom” snowball fight.

The Battle: Part 2

February 2, 2011 14.3 inches in 48 hours

The 2011 snow day was Martin’s second cancellation in just four semesters. This snow day also secured the Battle for Bascom as an annual campus tradition (see “Five Campus Rivalries”).

The Exam Stopper

December 20, 2012 15.2 inches in 48 hours

The next year, Interim Chancellor David Ward did something no UW chancellor had done before: he canceled all in-person final exams for the Fall 2012 semester.

Editor’s note: This list includes only the days when the university shut down completely — when no classes were held whatsoever. The university has closed early on several other occasions, including December 3, 1990, when classes were canceled around 10:30 a.m. on what turned out to be one of Madison’s snowiest days on record.

Correction: This article originally stated that Chancellor Biddy Martin canceled the in-person final exams in December 2012; it was Interim Chancellor David Ward.


  • Jim Clouse January 9, 2024

    They should have closed it in 1967, too!!
    Streets impassable. Froze my.

  • William Piernot January 18, 2024

    I graduated in ‘77. Without text or email communications, I don’t recall classes ever being canceled campus/eide. Individual professors could cancel classes but we just powered-on like Badgers.

  • William Piernot January 18, 2024

    I graduated in ‘77. Without text or email communications, I don’t recall classes ever being canceled campus-wide. Individual professors could cancel classes but we just powered-on like Badgers.

  • Susan Terrill January 19, 2024

    I was a junior in 1965. I started to class in the blizzard on St. Patty’s Day. I hadn’t gotten the announcement yet. I was halfway up Bascom Hill when I heard that classes were cancelled. Everyone stayed home, drank green beer and I think they dyed the white snow green. What fun! Go Badgers!

  • Todd Wehler January 19, 2024

    What about December 3, 1990. I remember walking down Langdon street because the sidewalks were closed to go to Agronomy to find my professor hadn’t come to class. I think the 24 hr snowfall total was 17.3″.

  • Dean C Kaul January 19, 2024

    I was a senior in 1965. I was living at the Phi Delt house 222 Langdon St. We were launching large snowballs from our tower down onto the Sigma Chi house across the street. The police were cruising, trying to keep order. We watched as someone ran out from between the Lut House and the Evan’s Scholars House next door and drop a huge load of snow on an officer’s lap. The officers exited their car and pursued their assailant between the buildings, only to encounter an ambush and a barrage of snowballs! Fortunately, the police were good sports, laughed it off and returned to their squad car.

  • Bob Koehler January 19, 2024

    If I remember correctly in my Senior year, 1973, we got 2 wet storms late in the Spring Semester. At least 1 dropped about 12 inches. Campus was closed and those of us in dorms had snowball fights without much animas. I thought one outcome of the cancelations was that the University was sued for 2 days of tuition and we got a refund. Supposedly the University vowed not to ever close campus again. Graduate students living on or near campus could teach classes when profs couldn’t make it in. Supposedly this mucked up Snow Days for Grade and High School kids because the School Districts often based their Snow Day decisions on what the University did. From the other comments it sounds as if classes have been canceled time to time after 1973.

  • Rick Miller January 20, 2024

    I was raised in Tucson, Arizona. My roommate had a good laugh when I asked how much colder it was going to get when it hit 40 degrees my freshman year. But, I got used to it. My sophomore year I washed my car in shorts and a T-shirt when it got up to 32 degrees!

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