Dumping more than a foot of snow on Ithaca and forcing New York into a state of emergency, Winter Storm Stella not only blanketed the campus but also left its snowy mark in Cornell history.
In what some students were calling a Pi Day miracle, for the first time in 24 years, the campus shut down for more than a full day, canceling classes from noon on Tuesday until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The last time Cornell shut down for an entire day of classes was on March 14, 1993. The Sun reported that the storm — dubbed the “storm of the century” — covered the Ithaca region with over 30 inches of snow.
When campus shut down 24 years ago, students headed to Buffalo Street, using sled, skis, mattresses, inner tubes and tarps to transform the busy street into a ski slope — calling the occasion a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” The Sun reported in 1993.
Students also convened at Libe slope, “traying” down the slope for a quintessential Cornell tradition.
While “traying” down the slope was rare this time around, this year’s campus closure led to canceled classes, exams and the closure of building and libraries on campus. Many eateries on North and Central campus and other essential campus facilities remained open despite the campus shut-down.
On Tuesday morning, the University announced that the campus would close from noon on Tuesday and was expected to reopen at noon on Wednesday. The following morning, the University updated its original plan, announcing that the closure would remain in effect until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
However, professors began preemptively canceling classes and postponing assignments before the University announced the extended closure on Wednesday.
“Given the closure of the university at noon today and the lack of certainty on when the university will reopen … the midterm test that was scheduled for class tomorrow will be postponed until class on Monday,” one professor in the ILR School wrote to students on Tuesday.
Much like in 1993, many students took full advantage of the unexpected free time and trekked to the slope and other spots on campus for sledding and snowboarding.
Mike Buldo Licciardi ’17 used the snow day as an opportunity to check something off his senior bucket list: jumping over the Cocktail Lounge of Uris Library.
“Jumping off this gap is something I’ve actually always wanted to do and it’s like senior year I’m doing it,” Licciardi said. “I was like really happy when all this snow came.”
For transfer students, Rebecca Howard-Cooper ’18 and Alexa Lehman ’19, the blizzard marked their first winter in Ithaca. Howard-Cooper, a transfer from University of Maryland, ranked the storm as “definitely the worst [she has] experienced.”
While residents of larger towns often mob their local grocery stores at the hint of a snowstorm, Cornellians instead took to Collegetown for their blizzard shopping, hitting up local businesses along the College Avenue stretch.
Citing issues with staffing, local store owners in Collegetown said the campus closing certainly made business more hectic. Due to road closures, businesses had trouble reaching full-staff.
Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing commanded the road closure on Tuesday at 3 p.m., allowing only emergency personnel, people driving home for work and others traveling for necessary health or safety reasons to remain on the roads.
TCAT service was also suspended in the wake of storm on Tuesday, but resumed regular service on Wednesday.
However, some Collegetown shops found the bustle of students rather “exciting,” according to Collegetown Bagels owner Gregor Brous.
In fact, Brous said the closure brought more business to his CTB location in Collegetown because his Cornell customers could walk to the location.
“[CTB Collegetown] got very busy because people can walk. I have two locations that were very busy: here and Rulloff’s,” Brous said. “All my other CTB/Ithaca Bakery locations and Agava were very, very slow and in fact we had to close.”
GreenStar in Collegetown, a grocery story that opened in August, also experienced increased business as a result of the snow, according to manager Jennifer McKean.
“As soon as classes canceled at noon, right at 11:30 until 2:30, was when everybody was here. It was quite fun,” McKean said. “The energy amongst the customers here and the staff being excited at having so much business here.”
For an area of upstate New York much accustomed to blistery conditions, Winter Storm Stella caused quite an interruption to the daily routine of Ithacans and Cornellians alike.
As students don their winter gear and return to class on Thursday, this momentous campus closure will leave its rightful mark in Cornell’s history.
Katie Sims ’20 contributed reporting to this story.