Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photoraphy Editor

A combination of sleet and snow could make the evening commute difficult for Cornellians and Ithacans, who have been encouraged to use caution.

February 10, 2019

Snow? Check. Next at Cornell: Sleet and Freezing Rain as Winter Storm Warning Continues Overnight

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The good news for commuters is that the majority of the predicted snow has fallen.

The bad news? Sleet and freezing rain are next.

Forecasters say Ithaca and Cornell should brace for the nasty combination, which could slick roads and sidewalks for commuters in the evening as a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service continues until Wednesday’s sunrise.

Rick Burgess, the vice president for facilities and campus services, said that after a brief tour of the campus, he was convinced that Cornell’s main roads and sidewalks are being effectively plowed and salted, work that he said is continuing.

“I’m thankful for the dedication of our Grounds and Building Care personnel; they are doing a fine job and it looks like this storm is well within their abilities to keep up,” Burgess said in an email. “It looks like the snow has shifted over to sleet/freezing rain, so we are watching for ice buildup this afternoon and tonight.”

“We encourage everyone to take their time and exercise caution, whether on foot or in their vehicles,” he added. “Please be safe!”

The change from snow to sleet happened just before noon, Jack Sillin ’22, an assistant forecasting chair for the Cornell chapter of the American Meteorological Society, said in a brief interview.

He said light sleet is expected to continue on and off through the early afternoon, with a turn toward freezing rain sometime between 4 and 6 p.m.

“Light to moderate freezing rain will continue for the rest of the evening, causing very slick roads and sidewalks,” he said, adding that it’s possible the area could see rain — the non-frozen kind — later in the night.

A statue of Ezra Cornell is in the Arts Quad gets dusted with snow during Cornell's last snow day, in March 2018.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

A statue of Ezra Cornell is in the Arts Quad gets dusted with snow during Cornell’s last snow day, in March 2018.

Wind continued to blow snow around the Arts Quad on Tuesday as gusts were predicted to reach up to 30 mph, with the wind chill expected to dip down to 13 degrees at some points.

The National Weather Service said that travel could be very difficult for the evening commute, and said the winter storm warning would continue until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Ithaca was expected to receive at least 3 inches of snow Tuesday, while surrounding areas were warned that they could see up to 9 inches.

Sillin explained Monday that the City of Ithaca — and to a lesser extent, Cornell — almost always receives a lighter snowfall than surrounding areas in the county because of its relatively low elevation.

“Downtown Ithaca will get even less snow than Cornell or places like the airport,” he said. “That’s because as air moves downhill along Cornell’s campus and down to the Commons, it dries out, and that will lead to less precipitation and warmer temperatures.”

Cornell said on Twitter that because of a commercial travel ban in Pennsylvania, all Campus to Campus trips scheduled to depart Tuesday would be cancelled. The Ithaca City School District was closed on Tuesday and Tompkins Cortland Community College closed at 11 a.m. Cornell Library cancelled its Chats in the Stalks talk, “The Resistance.”

New York State Electric and Gas Company said in an email to customers that it was monitoring the weather and had resources available “to respond to any reports of downed power lines and outages from storms.”

Cornell administrators were on the receiving end of an unsurprising student backlash last month, when President Martha E. Pollack decided to keep the University open in the face of a predicted wind chill as low as minus 29 degrees. Before that, in March 2018, Cornell declared a snow day amid predictions of about half a foot of snow, even though Ithaca ultimately received less than 4 inches, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Sillin said the storms are like “complex puzzles to solve” and that every storm “provides a unique challenge” both to Cornell student forecasters and to those at the National Weather Service’s nearest forecast office in Binghamton.

“It’s been a tricky series of storms, where we’ve gotten stymied here in Ithaca,” Sillin said. “The tiny minutiae of the system just don’t align for us to be in the heaviest snow bands, whereas they might be just 15 miles away.”

Student meteorologists are posting updates on the society’s Twitter account, @CornellWeather. The National Weather Service’s warning covers much of Central New York and northeastern Pennsylvania.