As a midwestern storm system barreled down to dump an anticipated two feet of snow on Central New York yesterday afternoon, Ithaca’s mayor declared a snow emergency, TCAT vowed its busses would run throughout the storm and Cornell officials and grounds crews prepared for massive cleanup operations.
The National Weather Service said travel would be “nearly impossible” into this evening.
City of Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson declared a snow emergency effective 5:00 p.m. yesterday and stated in a press release that the emergency would remain in effect until further notice. Peterson activated the city’s snow emergency routes and declared it illegal to park or stand on a raft of streets including State Street and College Avenue.
“It’s one of the biggest storms that we’ve seen in Ithaca,” said Keith Eggleston, the regional climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell. “If it produces two to three feet of snow, that’s quite enough to shut down a lot of things around Central New York for a few days,” he said. But to shut down the University, Eggleston said, the storm would have had to produce the majority of the snowfall by early this morning.
“By first thing tomorrow morning, the storm’s only going to be halfway through its life cycle,” Eggleston said yesterday, giving snowplow teams time to react.
“If the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department closes the roads, Cornell closes,” said Joe Schwartz, a public information officer from the Cornell Press Relations office.
According to Schwartz, Cornell has been shut down for snow three times: once in 1984 and twice during the 2003-2004 school year. Schwartz said four feet of snow fell to shut the University down in April of 2004.
“My office handed out the phone trees. Every department has a list of people to call. My department notifies the press very early in the morning,” Schwartz said.
Stephen Golding, vice president for finance and administration, makes the final call if the University is to be closed down. Although Golding was in New York City, he was in contact with grounds crew officials throughout last night according to his wife, Callie Golding. Golding was unavailable for comment.
Schwartz said Cornell was prepared for the storm.
“We have a general plan for heavy snow removal. We have people on duty all night in the grounds department,” he said. “Once there’s enough snow to plow, they start plowing. In the morning, we start attacking the sidewalks.”
Schwartz said the University hires a subcontractor to plow the parking lots; city workers plow roads owned by the city.
“Everything that is done depends on the timing of the snow and how long it lasts,” he said.
Last night, students prepared for the brunt of the storm.
“I’m very excited, and I hope it turns into a snow day so we can all sleep in and not go to school,” said Stephanie Thornton ’09, who is from Los Angeles.
“I’ve got my long-johns, hat, gloves and scarf,” she said. “I’m ready.”
Thornton said she did not regret her decision to leave the confines of sunny California.
“I personally came to Cornell to try something new — even though the cold is frightening and uncomfortable, the snow is enticing and exciting and different and fluffy,” she said.
The storm was only about halfway through its life cycle as classes started today, with precipitation slated to continue through this evening. If conditions are just right, sleet will turn to snow and even more snow will accumulate on the ground. The storm caused blizzard conditions in the midwest when the northern and southern jet streams collided, creating a surface convergence. According to the NWS, snow will continue through today and taper off to snow showers this evening. The NWS, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, instituted a heavy snow warning which will remain in effect until 7 p.m. today. The NWS reported that northwest winds will increase to as fast as 25 miles per hour this afternoon, causing drifts and blizzard conditions. The service also cited a potential for downed trees and hazardous road conditions.
Sun Staff Meteorologist Shaun Walter and Sun Staff Writer Molly O’Toole contributed reporting to this article. See page 3 for Walter’s analysis of the storm system.
Correction Appended: In this article, Joe Schwartz incorrects states that the last day Cornell closed for snow was in April 2004. The actual days were March 4, 1999 and February 14, 2007. The Sun regrets this error.