(Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor)

A Coach USA Ithaca Platinum bus heads west on N.Y. Route 17 en route from New York City to Ithaca on December 1st, 2019. All Ithaca Platinum buses were rescheduled to leave between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. in anticipation of inclement weather in the Northeast.

December 2, 2019

Before Classes Were Cancelled, Cornellians Attempted to Return to Ithaca at All Costs

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As Thanksgiving break was nearing its end, Eva Zhang ’23 booked an OurBus trip to Ithaca departing from near her hometown in Connecticut.

But once OurBus canceled the majority of its trips because of the snowstorm, Zhang found herself on a CoachUSA Shortline bus, which skidded sideways into a patch of bushes on its way back to Cornell.

“Everyone was scared we were going to crash again,” Zhang told The Sun. “The drivers knew what they’re doing, but the weather was also really bad.”

Zhang was one of many students who took to social media to recount their troubles with traveling back to Ithaca on Sunday. The snowstorm, which started Sunday and continued into Monday, dropped nearly a foot of snow in Ithaca.

Many students felt pressed to return to campus before classes were scheduled to resume. While neighboring universities like Ithaca College and Binghamton University announced their Monday closure on Saturday, Cornell waited to announce class cancellation until Sunday noon. Thus, students ended up on trains, planes and automobiles trying to get back to campus in the middle of the storm.

Once the Shortline bus skidded, it blocked all traffic on the highway, Zhang said. In a Reddit post, Zhang added that state police had to intervene while Shortline arranged for a new bus to take over the rest of the trip. The bus had departed a little after 10:15 a.m. from Port Authority in Manhattan, but amid the snow, sleet and icy roads, it ultimately took nine hours for the bus to reach Cornell. This trip typically takes four to five hours.

In a statement to The Sun, John Carberry, a Cornell spokesperson, said that the University “closely monitors all major weather events.” Carberry added that the University’s Office of Emergency Management also received several briefings from the National Weather Service in the days leading up to the storm.

When students were driving back to campus on Sunday, many left in the morning only to find out in the middle of their commute that they had extra time to return to Cornell. Brian Filipek ’21 left from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York at 9 a.m. and reached Ithaca at around 4:30 p.m. — the trip took nearly eight hours.

“I tried to leave early to avoid most of the storm, but still ended up being caught in it,” Filipek wrote in a message. “I thought I had classes until I was three hours out on the road.”

During his trip, Filipek recounted witnessing around five car crashes, and said the Shortline buses drove “like maniacs,” as he saw the buses driving at nearly 50 miles per hour on icy roads.

Filipek took to Cornell’s Facebook meme group to share his frustrations with the experience, claiming that a Shortline bus “almost skidded” into his car.

Aris Agarwala ’21 left New Jersey at 10:30 a.m., but ended up returning home because of the poor road conditions and multiple accidents he had seen during his commute.

“I was pretty frustrated,” Agarwala said. “I was under the impression that we would still be having school and driving on the road, I was thinking to myself how unsafe it was.”

Agarwala said he saw four accidents in a row on highway I-80 — one car was in a ditch, two cars collided and one hit a guardrail.

“I was thinking, ‘that could be me,’” Agarwala said.

On Sunday, Port Authority also canceled all trips leaving from New York City to Ithaca. The University’s Campus to Campus bus was still slated to leave from the New York City Cornell Club at 7 p.m. on Sunday — approximately when the snow began to accumulate. In a Reddit post, one student wrote, “My C2C bus from NYC just departed. Really hope I don’t die.”

Aidan Mahoney ’22 — who was also on the C2C — told The Sun that he felt as if he had to take the bus. Otherwise, he would not reach campus until Wednesday.

Some students also experienced flight delays, cancelations and were stranded in airports for hours.

While visiting a friend in Houston during break, Diya Chopra-Malik ’22 rushed to book an early flight once she heard of the storm. After taking a flight from Houston to Washington, D.C., Chopra-Malik tried to book two flights to Ithaca, but both flights got canceled because of the snow. Now, Chopra-Malik cannot return to campus until Tuesday.

“I think [the cancelation] should have been announced at least two days earlier,” Chopra-Malik wrote in a message to The Sun. “[I] could have waited at my friend’s house till the weather got better.”

Megan Peterson ’21 arrived to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Sunday at 5 a.m. for a flight to Detroit. After Peterson landed in Detroit, all flights to upstate New York were canceled and she had to stay in Detroit overnight. Peterson managed to get the last seat on a flight to Ithaca on Monday, finally arriving to campus in the evening.

“I thought that it was handled very poorly,” Peterson wrote in a message to The Sun. “[B]y the time Cornell canceled, everyone was already on the road or at an airport trying to get back in unsafe conditions.”