Cornellians, Ithaca residents and people all along the Northeast are bracing for Winter Storm Stella, which could dump a foot and a half of snow on campus Tuesday, almost exactly 24 years after Cornell’s most recent full snow day in 1993.
The National Weather Service predicted on Monday night that Ithaca will see between 12 and 18 inches of snow over the next few days, with most of the snow piling up on Tuesday.
“This doesn’t happen every year,” said Marc Alessi ’18, secretary and forecasting chair of the American Meteorological Society’s Cornell chapter. “It’s most like the 2007 Valentine’s Day storm that gave this area 1 to 2 feet of snow.”
The Valentine’s Day snow in 2007 forced Cornell to cancel afternoon classes, but the last full-day shutdown was on Sunday, March 14, 1993. The next day, the University remained shuttered until 3 p.m. and a headline in The Sun declared, “Massive Blizzard Closes Cornell Campus” after 30 inches of snow blanketed the region over the weekend.
Alessi, who is studying atmospheric science, said snow is expected to fall at a rate of 1 to 3 inches per hour and most of the snow will accumulate between the morning and evening hours on Tuesday.
Tompkins County is under a winter storm warning until 8 p.m. on Wednesday, and the National Weather Service’s Binghamton station — which also serves Ithaca — issued its first blizzard warning since 2001, for the Scranton and Catskills areas.
Cornell took the unusual step on Monday of issuing a storm message, noting that Cornell rarely closes during adverse weather but warning of a “potential winter weather impact” and adding that intensity and duration of a storm are considered in the decision to close or remain open.
Ultimately, William Sitzabee, vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning, will have the final say as to whether or not Cornell classrooms and facilities shut their doors on Monday.
The National Weather Service predicted about 14 inches of snow to hit Ithaca, but said a maximum of 23 inches could hit the area. Alessi forecast between 10 and 15 inches, but said 18 inches is more than possible.
There is a 66 percent chance that Ithaca will be hit with at least a foot of snow, the National Weather Service said, and a 34 percent chance of 18 inches or more.
The City of Ithaca issued a statement urging residents to avoid unnecessary travel so that plows can easily navigate what are likely to be treacherous roads. Ithaca is also offering free overnight parking in the Dryden Road, Green Street and Seneca Street parking garages on Tuesday night, and cars must be removed by 9 a.m. on Wednesday to avoid parking fees.
Many school districts in the county — including the Ithaca City School District — cancelled Tuesday classes on Monday night.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) declared a statewide state of emergency beginning at midnight on Tuesday, about an hour before snow is expected to begin accumulating in Ithaca.
Wednesday will bring cold winds with gusts up to 40 m.p.h., Alessi said, creating a “blustery and snowy” day that “will blow the snow around and make travel very difficult.”
A nor’easter, Alessi explained, is created by a low-pressure system of air along the coast. The system was somewhat far out at sea a few days ago, making forecasters believe that the heavy snow would be in New York City and other coastal areas.
But now, the low-pressure system is closer to the coast, so inland cities will see more accumulation, Alessi said.
The 1993 article in The Sun said the “‘storm of the century’ turned Ithaca into a winter carnival” and the Sheriff’s Department threatened to arrest anyone driving on the roads.
“The once-in-a-lifetime snowfall … also provided unusual recreational opportunities for the adventurous,” The Sun said, with pictures of students sledding down Libe Slope and Buffalo Street’s steep hill, which became “a sledder’s paradise.”