With heavy rains and 41-mile-per-hour wind gusts in the weekend forecast, the approach of Hurricane Ian on Wednesday forced Winston-Salem State University to cancel all official homecoming events taking place past noon on Friday.
School officials said they’re disappointed for students, staff, alumni and fans, but that the risk of a severe weather impact was simply too great to go forward with activities as planned.
“It is important for our supporters to know that this decision was not made lightly,” the school said in a statement announcing the cancellations.
Forecasts call for the remnants of Hurricane Ian to dump between 2 and 6 inches of rain on many locations across central North Carolina, with the worst of the rain expected to fall in Winston-Salem from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.
The storm won’t be a hurricane when it arrives over central North Carolina, but the forecast calls for gusts as high as 34 miles an hour Friday and 41 miles-per-hour on Saturday. It will be plenty wet all weekend, according to the forecasts, with showers persisting Saturday night and Sunday.
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Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency, which allows for the quicker mobilization of relief efforts in response to the storm.
It was sunny on the campus of WSSU on Wednesday, when Marilyn Roseboro quickly shut down any talk that Hurricane Ian was going to ruin her homecoming.
“We’re not even going to speak that,” said Roseboro, a 1973 graduate of WSSU. “We may not get to do all that we want to do, but we’re having homecoming.”
Homecoming won’t include a parade or football game or many other fun events on tap. The events officially cancelled include a step show and a concert with ConFunkShun and En Vogue scheduled for Friday evening.
The university is offering full refunds for tickets to the cancelled football game on Saturday, as well as payments for tailgating spaces.
The scaled-down version of homecoming will include the annual nurses gala and a formal celebration, a Black and Red Affair, at the Millennium Center. Both events are Thursday. The Founders’ Convocation that honors the university founder’s, Simon G. Atkins, is still on for Friday morning on campus.
The pandemic led to the cancelation of homecoming in 2020 and a pared-down homecoming in 2021, so hopes were high that this year would be a full-throttle celebration.
On Wednesday, as part of homecoming week, the school marked its 130th birthday with free cupcakes and a raucous performance from the Red Sea of Sound. Students and staff members took a break from their day to listen to the music.
Aniya Pittman, a sophomore, and McKenzie Mason, a freshman, are both newcomers to Winston-Salem State. They both said they were looking forward to their first homecoming, but the event they most wanted to see, a step show, fell victim to Hurricane Ian.
Without dropping hints about what they had in mind, school officials were promising to make things up with the disappointed:
“Please know that a proper celebration is in the works, and we will see everyone together very soon,” the school said.
The approaching storm had already forced area high schools to move up their Friday games, and most are taking place on Thursday instead.
But officials with the Carolina Classic fair said high water wouldn’t be stopping their 11 a.m. Friday opening, and made plans to operate on a normal schedule unless conditions get really extreme.
“Our roots as an agricultural fair have prepared us well to deal with a wide variety of weather conditions,” said Cheryle Hartley, the fair director. “During periods of rain, guests will be encouraged to visit the many indoor attractions and exhibits.“
Hartley said that the rides will be operating despite the rain, although fairgoers may have to wait if the ride operators take a pause because of heavy rain, lightning or winds.
Meanwhile, a group that delivers food to children and parents has decided to push back the fifth edition of its annual H.O.P.E. Classic golfing fundraiser at Forsyth Country Club to Oct. 24.
As local officials kept their eyes on the weather forecasts, Assistant Winston-Salem City Manager Johnnie Taylor said city forces have preparations underway for the heavy rains that may sock the city.
“We have some issues with flooding in some locations, so we try to make sure the storm drains are cleaned up,” Taylor said.
City crews will be ready to mobilize for any activities needed in response to the storm once the impacts here become apparent, Taylor said.
Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday on the west coast of Florida and is expected to weaken gradually as it makes its way north. The hurricane was expected to degrade into a tropical depression before leaving Florida and heading north up the Atlantic coast before coming ashore again along the Georgia or South Carolina coast.
The National Weather Service said that the main rivers across central North Carolina were at risk for minor flooding, but that major flooding was not expected because of recent dry conditions.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism