Bundled in coats, students  trek through central campus amidst confusion about whether or not classes were canceled on Feb. 7.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Staff Photographer

Bundled in coats, students trek through central campus amidst confusion about whether or not classes were canceled on Feb. 7.

February 7, 2020

With Snow Day Announced Midday, Confusion Rains Down on Cornell’s Campus

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This story has been updated.

Trudging up to class through swirling wind and snow, most students weren’t checking their phones on their way up Libe Slope on Friday. But Justin Sirota ’22 happened to be videoing his walk when Cornell announced its second snow day of the academic year.

“No one who was walking up the slope knew it was canceled,” Sirota told The Sun. “So I just started yelling.”

While the rest of Ithaca had shuttered for the winter storm conditions by 7 a.m., the University had remained mum for hours, leaving questions unanswered about whether people should weather the walk to campus, The Sun previously reported.

This resulted in students like Sirota already well on their way to campus — or even already in classrooms — by the time Cornell canceled Ithaca campus classes at 10 a.m. Friday morning. The University ultimately closed the campus entirely at noon, with plans to reopen at midnight.

“Walking up the slope is hard enough, but when you can barely see and are freezing cold … it was extremely tiring,” Sirota said, guessing that he would have been late to his 10:10 a.m. class in Kennedy Hall.

Jessie Yee ’20 had already made it to her 10:15 a.m. class when Cornell announced its closure.

“I was walking from just behind Schwartz [Center for the Performing Arts] to the Plant Science building, which normally takes me about 15 minutes,” Yee told The Sun. “But it took me 30 minutes today.”

Yee turned around to walk back home upon the announcement, frustrated that she had been “such a sucker” and made it to class — despite temperatures dipping below 20 degrees and wind speeds of 16 mph.

People already on campus before the announcement were left conflicted about what to do.

“I made it to campus, so I will be holding lecture (in 13 minutes),” Prof. Hadas Ritz Ph.D. ’08, mechanical and aerospace engineering, wrote to her class at 9:57 a.m.

Olivia Roberts ’21, who is in Ritz’s MAE 3260: System Dynamics, had already decided to miss class after Tompkins County Area Transit suspended services. She said she had no way to make it to class safely.

Through the snow, a lone TCAT bus attempts to shuttle students to campus.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Staff Photographer

Through the snow, a lone TCAT bus attempts to shuttle students to campus.

“I checked for the University’s operating status all morning before I left the house, and when I got to campus,” Ritz told The Sun. “I had just emailed my class that I had made it to campus and that I would be holding class. And then the second student into the room said, ‘They just canceled classes.’”

For the students already at Gates Hall, Ritz held class, promising to post class notes for those stranded at home. Ritz said that despite her mandatory attendance policy, students will not be penalized for missing Friday’s class.

“I don’t envy the person whose job it is to decide whether or not to cancel classes,” Ritz said about the delayed decision. “Obviously, canceling classes 15 minutes before is not great. It’s annoying, but what can you do?”

Before the cancelation, TCAT buses were spinning their wheels in the unplowed roads, including one bus which blocked Stewart Ave. after getting stuck near the State/MLK @ Stewart bus stop. Students from Schuyler Hall — the farthest off-campus dorm, tucked below Collegetown — were left stranded and facing long walks to try to get to class.

As heavy snow continues to fall, Cornell facilities struggles to clear the roads.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Staff Photographer

As heavy snow continues to fall, Cornell facilities struggles to clear the roads.

At the time of the announcement, six inches of snow had already fallen, according to Jack Sillin ’22, co-president of Cornell’s American Meteorological Society. Sillin also called into question what took the University so long to make the announcement, despite the forecast “verifying almost perfectly.”

“Indeed, the heavy snow fell during the time expected and accumulated about as much as expected,” Sillin told The Sun. “While forecasts issued earlier in the week were more cautious about the possibility for heavy snow, by Thursday evening it became clear that the burst of heavy snow experienced Friday morning would happen.”

“The initial estimate based on the forecast last night was that we would be able to manage it,” Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services, wrote in a statement to The Sun. “The snowfall started up earlier and fell far heavier than expected.”

“When we saw conditions deteriorating, we made the call to cancel,” Burgess wrote.

Friday’s announcement delay mirrors the academic year’s first snow day — right after Thanksgiving break — which was also announced at least a day later than other nearby schools, as students struggled to make it back to Ithaca.

Scarlett Zha ’22 contributed reporting.

This story has been updated with University comment.