Candy hearts, chocolate, roses and, well … lots of snow. And then some more snow.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, the campus was fully prepared for business as usual. By late in the morning, with the snow piling up and as much as 30 inches predicted, Cornell University officials decided to close the campus at 12:30 p.m. The campus will reopen at 9 a.m., Feb. 15, with classes beginning at 10:10 a.m.
Cornell does not make such decisions lightly. Administrators usually take their cue from the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office's announcement of road closures. This time they did not wait for the sheriff.
Capt. Kathy Zoner, assistant director of Cornell Police, said Wednesday's decision was based on worsening weather conditions and reports on the number of people taking to the streets due to pedestrian-unfriendly sidewalks.
"It's just not safe," said Zoner. "The winds are supposed to pick up, and we just want to get everyone home safely."
Half-day closures due to inclement weather are unusual for Cornell. Full-day closures are even rarer, happening about once a decade.
There have been three campus closures in recent years, in 1993, 1997 and 1999 (an early closing). The blizzard of 1993 began on Friday evening March 12 at the tail end of spring break, just as students were returning. The storm blew for two days with a total snow accumulation of 30 inches, the largest snowfall recorded on campus within a 24-hour period since 1925. County and state roads were closed for 48 hours, and Zoner remembers safety staff fielding 2,400 phone calls per eight-hour shift that day. The campus reopened on Tuesday, March 16, and it took a week to fully remove the snow.
The storm of 1997 began with 15 inches of snowfall on Jan. 4 with a total accumulation of 24 inches by Jan. 15. This was the second largest storm of the decade. Cornell closed at noon on Jan. 5, and county and state roads were closed. The university reopened on Jan. 6.
In 1999 the university closed early, largely due to snowmelt and flooding. Peter Tufford, Cornell's director of employee relations, recalls the 1999 closing as ironic because it happened during the first meeting of the university's Emergency Planning Committee at the Humphreys Service Building during intercession. The closing occurred that afternoon, Tufford recalled.
The latest closing decision was made mid-morning Wednesday as public safety and facilities staff learned that while the storm was tracking south, there was the potential for a change in the winds and late afternoon lake-effect snowfall and blizzard-like conditions due to high winds. With this new knowledge, the decision was made to cancel classes and close the campus so faculty, staff and students could get home before conditions worsened.