February 2, 2011

The Storm That Wasn’t

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The massive snowstorm that forecasters anticipated would bring as much as a foot of snow to the region Wednesday turned out to be a bust, with the Ithaca area experiencing mostly sleet and rain.The University’s decision late Tuesday night to delay its opening and cancel some morning classes appeared by Wednesday morning to be an overreaction to just a few inches of snow.“In the end, you make the best call you can with the information you have,” Interim Deputy University Spokesperson Claudia Wheatley said of Cornell’s response to the snow.The University relies on AccuWeather and the National Weather Service forecasts, both of which had predicted heavy snow accumulation, Wheatley said.Original forecasts placed the snow-rain line of the storm well below Binghamton, which turned out to be inaccurate, according to Sun weather columnist and atmospheric sciences major Matthew Gewing ’12.“With warmer air being pulled into lower pressure levels, the snow-rain line was pushed northward into Binghamton and Ithaca areas,” Gewing said. “Instead of snow, we saw significantly more sleet and even rain.”As the storm approached the region Tuesday night, a team of University officials — Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman, Vice President for Facilities Kyu Wang, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73, Dean of Faculty William Fry and personnel in charge of snow removal — discussed how to respond via teleconference, Wheatley said.During a preliminary call at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, the officials held off on changing the University’s operating status. However, during the later call at 10:15 p.m., the team decided on a delayed opening.“These decisions are not taken lightly,” Wheatley said. “There is pretty brisk debate about whether to start classes late.”When determining whether to cancel classes, officials typically discuss expected road conditions and the status of TCAT, as well as what other institutions are doing. Ithaca College also delayed its opening Wednesday, and the Ithaca City School District shut down for the entire day.Administrators also weigh the academic impact of cancelling classes, including if there is enough time remaining in the semester to make up the lost instruction. Most of the time, Cornell opts to stay open in spite of wintry weather. Aside from Wednesday, the last time snow delayed University operations was last February, when morning classes were cancelled. Previously, Cornell shut down because of snow on Feb. 14, 2007. Prior to that, the last time Cornell closed due to inclement weather was March 4, 1999.Though many students said that Cornell’s decision to cancel some morning classes might have been overzealous, most said they enjoyed the time off.“I thought it was hilarious that they cancelled classes even though it was one of the most mild days we’ve had,” Shane Seppinni ’13 said.Instead of going to class Wednesday, Seppinni said he slept in.“It was refreshing,” he said. “I think that the University has to be pre-emptive like this more often in the future.”Sam Cross contributed reporting to this story.

Original Author: Michael Stratford