Nearly a year after Winter Storm Stella forced the University to shut down campus for an entire day for the first time since 1993, Cornell remained open last Wednesday, despite warnings of up to 10 inches of snow and hazardous travel conditions from the National Weather Service.
“You obviously pay attention, but it didn’t seem to get too close to a shutdown level,” Prof. Charles Van Loan, dean of faculty, told The Sun.
Although the Ithaca City School District canceled all district activities on Wednesday, Cornell does not use local school closings as a “determining factor” in making their decision, according a frequently asked questions page made after Stella.
“School districts will build snow days into their calendars, and thus have greater flexibility and lower tolerance for disruptions,” the FAQ website states.
However, the “Inclement Weather” FAQ page says that the university does take into account snowfall rates.
“Snowfall rates greater than one inch per hour for at least three hours will usually exceed our ability to remove snow and maintain clear walkways, parking lots, and campus roads,” the website states.
Rick Burgess, the current vice president of infrastructure properties and planning and member of the Incident Leadership Team, told The Sun that there is a weather Incident Management Team that consistently monitors the weather, taking into account the ability of the University to ensure people’s safety and keep up with factors such as projected snowfall, wind, precipitation, temperature and timing.
“They monitored before and during the storm event and were prepared to make recommendations but did not reach the point where they felt like a closure was indicated,” he said about last week’s weather
The final decision on whether or not to close the university is made by the president or designee based on a recommendation from the Incident Leadership Team — which includes senior University leaders such as the executive vice president, senior vice provost, dean of faculty and the Cornell Police Chief.
“You get snow in Ithaca,” Burgess said. “In terms of dealing with it and knowing what to do, that’s a pretty finely tuned machine.”
According to the University Statement on Continuity of Service, it is very rare for the campus to deviate from its normal operations due to weather concerns.
“Cornell University offices generally remain in operation, classes continue and regular services are provided despite adverse weather conditions,” the statement says. “Even in times of inclement weather, university employees are asked to continue meeting the academic, research and student support needs of our community.”
After last year’s shutdown caused widespread confusion and cancelled prelims, Van Loan led an initiative to revise Cornell’s inclement weather policy.
“I think back to last year, it was a real occasion to learn, to appreciate the complexity of the shutdown process and just to think hard about all our employees who travel these relatively great distances to work here and how dedicated they are,” he said.
After an unexpected event like last year’s snow day occured, Van Loan said it wasn’t a “radical decision” to revisit the policy. He said that the university now has a much better contingency plan in place with the registrar in terms of rescheduling prelims.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re going to make better weather predictions, that’s certainly not going to happen,” he said. “It’s just you try to anticipate all [the] little, tiny problems.”