This post was originally published on Feb. 4, 2015 and written by Brian Crandall, who runs “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”
Do you have pictures from the Blizzard of 1993 that you want to share? Post them in the comments!
Ithaca, N.Y. — Ithaca is cold. Ithaca is cloudy. Ithaca is snowy. These are three implicit agreements local residents must come to terms with each year. On the flip side, Ithaca is relatively safe from natural disasters.
But if there is any sort of weather disaster that Ithaca is prone to, it’s winter’s thuggish crony, the blizzard. Some blizzards are quick, some slow, some weaker than expected, and some, a very very few some, are strong enough to shut down Cornell.
That’s what happened during one weekend in March 1993, in what would become known as the Blizzard of ’93, the Superstorm of 1993, or the headline-catching title, the “Storm of the Century“.
Without going into too much detail on the meteorology, the storm formed when elements from multiple jet streams combined their energy with a developing low-pressure area in the Gulf, creating optimal strengthening conditions.
The storm quickly grew to immense size and power, and began tracking through the gulf and up the east coast. It caused tornadoes in Florida, over a foot of snow in Atlanta and Birmingham, heavy ice accumulations, hurricane-force winds, and a 12-foot storm surge that devastated beachfront communities. The storm caused several billion dollars in damage and claimed over 300 lives.
Ithaca, like most of New York state, was on the backside of the monster storm, with cold air pouring in from the north, and gulf moisture creating terrific snowfalls.
Syracuse was smothered with 42.9″ on the 14th. Cortland was buried under 34″, Auburn received 26″. The impacts on the city of gorges were not so profound – 15.0 inches fell on Sunday the 14th, and temperatures bottomed out at 5 F. The storm delivered about 16.4″ total. Binghamton and Elmira were similar, 18.6″ and 17.0″ respectively.
That might not sound particularly bad on the surface, but many of the towns in higher elevations saw totals more similar to Cortland, and throw in blowing and drifting created by the howling winds, and it made for a traveller’s nightmare. The county sheriff’s office closed the road to all non-essential travel.
In an act of prudence, Cornell decided shut down the university from Saturday March 13th at 3 PM to Monday March 15th at 3 PM.
It is the only time Cornell has canceled a whole day of classes due to the weather since perhaps the early 1970s.
But for being shut down, it was still a busy place. Some staff stayed on campus to make sure that essential functions were being carried out. Residence Life stayed at Cornell, keeping the campus community warm and fed. Grounds crew worked through the day to clear the snow being blown by the icy winds. More than 30 librarians trudged onto campus in the drifts to open Uris, Olin and Mann, so that students would be able to go to the library and prepare for prelims. Students and campus staff volunteered to keep functioning through the shutdown, many sleeping on cots since many couldn’t make it home through the blizzard.
It was a bad day for weather. It was a bad day to be out and about. But given the altruism and generosity demonstrated by the campus staff and community, perhaps it was a good day to call oneself a Cornellian.
Here’s a reflection from one alumna:
From the Cornell Chronicle:
“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 (Chief Kathy) 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.”
“Ahhh yes, the Blizzard of ’93! Our cozy home was set back in the woods off a quiet country lane. When warning came of the impending storm, like many, we figured it would be the usual deep snow, cold and in a day it would be back to normal. Not this time.”