A familiar trek up a snow-covered Slope

It’s a Storm, It’s a Blizzard, It’s … a Big Red Snowpocalypse!

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As Cornellians know, winter weather + a big hill = frosty Ithaca memories. Here’s a look back at some notable storms!

By Joe Wilensky

While winter on East Hill offers its share of excitement and challenges—from ice, wind, and precipitating “Ithacation” to bitterly cold temperatures—the snow is often what Cornellians remember most.

Perhaps surprisingly, with a seasonal average measuring around 44 inches a year, Ithaca is not known as a record-setter when it comes to snowfall. Nearby Buffalo and Syracuse make headlines (and post bigger numbers) more often—but when blizzards and other weather systems affect Cornell, they often do so in a Big (Red) way.

That’s partly due to the region’s geography. Because of Cayuga Lake and the surrounding hills, weather can differ greatly from one place (and elevation) to another—and, often, from one moment to another.

Dozens make a winter trek down Central Avenue from campus, late 1800s
A journey down Central Avenue in the late 1800s. (Rare and Manuscript Collections)

This was just as well known to Cornellians more than a century ago.

As geology professor O.D. von Engeln observed in the 1909 edition of At Cornell, a popular campus guidebook of the era: “Fiercely buffeting winds, whistling around the corners of buildings and bringing with them blinding flurries of snow, which piles in drifts on the walks, constitute typical winter at Cornell; and one realizes, as seldom in other seasons, that the Campus is a hilltop, and gets the weather, all there is of it, and gets it while it is being made.”

One realizes that the Campus is a hilltop, and gets the weather, all there is of it, and gets it while it is being made.

O.D. von Engeln, in At Cornell

Mark Wysocki, MS ’89, a longtime senior lecturer in earth and atmospheric sciences, is particularly well versed in the vicissitudes of Ithaca weather.

“Here in the Northeast, if we have these coastal storms, it’s wet, heavy snow, and it doesn’t drift and blow as much,” he observes. “So it stays put.”

Infographic shows highest recorded official 48-hour snow event totals at Cornell

The Northeast’s climate also makes blizzards more likely in February and March, Wysocki says. Those late-winter, early-spring storms (several of which are recalled below) can be followed by significant flooding once the weather warms—often just a day or two afterward.

Read on for some of the most notable blizzards in Cornell and Ithaca history—and add your own memories in the comments!

The Blizzard of 1993

Often dubbed the “storm of the century,” it wasn’t technically a Nor’easter but rather an “East Texas low” that moved out of the Gulf of Mexico and went up the East Coast, dumping moisture along the way. It barreled through Upstate New York on March 12 and 13, as students were returning from Spring Break.

Mark Wysocki, MS ’89, prepares to dig out of his Ithaca driveway following the Blizzard of 1993
Wysocki preparing to clear his Ithaca driveway after the Blizzard of ’93. (Provided)

While Syracuse tallied the highest snowfall (43 inches!), Ithaca saw an estimated—but unofficial—30 inches over a two-day period, closing county and state roads.

So why isn’t it on the charts as a record-breaker? “Travel to Cornell’s Game Farm Road weather station was impossible,” recalls Keith Eggleston ’82, senior climatologist at Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.

And while a professor did his best to measure the snow at his Ellis Hollow home, he tallied just 15 inches. “That is widely considered to be much too low,” Eggleston says, “but it is what is in our database.”

The storm caused the first weather-related University shutdown in more than 20 years. As the Cornell Chronicle reported, some 30 librarians still walked to campus—many through hip-high snow—to open Olin, Mann, and Uris that Sunday so students could study for prelims.

Numerous employees slept on campus to feed Cornellians, with some students filling in for shifts in the dining halls and elsewhere. Dozens of animal-care technicians worked through the storm and traveled by snowmobile and on foot to deliver fresh hay to pastured animals and to thaw water supplies.

Campus reopened at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16—and it took a week to fully remove the snow.

Valentine’s Day 2007

A quickly developing storm that hit the area on the morning of February 14 dumped about 17 inches of snow on the Hill.

The University announced it would shut at 12:30 p.m.—though the county had just declared a state of emergency and closed the roads at noon.

While the snow totals weren’t record-breaking, the closure timing caused a logistical mess. The events led to the creation of a task force, subsequent revisions of Cornell’s inclement weather policy, and, ultimately, better coordination between the University and surrounding municipalities and agencies.

Person walks down the Slope below McGraw Hall
Can you feel the wind?

The Chronicle noted that some essential services continued that day: it was business as usual, for example, at the Hospital for Animals, where veterinary staff handled 10 emergency visits, treated 62 patients, and helped one Thoroughbred horse give birth.

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First weather closure: March 1971

Bottom of Libe Slope, 1970s
A problem of traction: bottom of Libe Slope, 1970s. (Rare and Manuscript Collections)

When 18 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period, the Ithaca campus closed due to a blizzard for the first time in its history.

For a university that had never dealt with a complete and sudden snow closure, the challenges were numerous—but Cornellians stepped up.

As the Daily Sun reported, the Straight and Noyes Lodge remained open for meals, “occasionally with janitors at the cash registers.”

In Risley’s dining hall, only one employee was able to make it in. “She soon found herself deluged by eager (and hungry) volunteers,” the Sun noted.

“They were sent to work toting food up from the cellar or to play with banana salads and gallon cans of cherries. Because of or in spite of them, a tolerable lunch and supper were served.”

The University re-opened at 1 p.m. the following day. Said the Sun: “A snow fort built on the Arts Quad became a white dragon and Collegetown was graced by a 10-foot totem pole.”

The great snowball fight of 2010

On February 25­–26, a storm (dubbed a potential “snow-palooza” by some forecasters) dropped 21.7 inches, causing the University to delay its opening for one morning.

Eighteen inches of the total fell during a 24-hour period. It was the city’s fourth-highest single-day accumulation since the Game Farm Road observation station (located just north of campus on the Ithaca and Dryden town line) began recording in 1893.

The storm prompted a massive snowball fight on the Arts Quad, attended by hundreds—perhaps the first on the Hill to be pre-planned and publicized on Facebook.

Photo Tour: Winter Wonderlands

Other memorable storms

• January 29–30, 1925, saw 25.5 inches of snow—along with temperatures of 22 degrees below zero.

• During a three-day sleet storm in March 1936, area power and communication lines came down, roads were impassable, and the city and campus were essentially isolated. Much damage to campus trees was also reported.

• December 1944 and January 1945 saw an average temperature of just 14.8 degrees—and more than 80 inches of snow.

• In early 1961, a snowstorm impacted the long-awaited debut of Olin Library. While the building opened as planned on February 6, a record 26 inches that had fallen during the prior two days delayed the transfer of some materials from Uris (then known as Main Library), limiting operations.

• The March record for snowfall during a 24-hour period was set in 1984, with 16.5 inches.

• The second-largest storm of the ’90s hit in January 1997. The total accumulation of 24 inches caused Cornell to shut at noon on January 5 and closed county and state roads—though since it was Winter Break, many students were out of town.

A.D. White statue partially covered in snow
Snow White!

• March 14–15, 2017, saw a Nor’easter that combined with a storm over the Great Lakes, dumping 15.4 inches on the Hill. The University closed for 28 hours—the first day-plus closure since 1993.

• Recent years have seen a few other weather-related closings or delays, including: a snow day was called in early March 2018 (though less fell than predicted, as Ithaca escaped the brunt of a major coastal storm); Thanksgiving break was extended a day in 2019 when just under a foot fell; and in January 2021, 21 inches of snow delayed spring semester move-in.

Top: Trekking up a snow-covered Slope. (All images by Cornell University, unless otherwise indicated.)

Published January 31, 2023

What’s your favorite snow-related Cornell memory?


  1. Jacob F., Class of 2023

    This is a great article about weather stats, but all of your examples were not blizzards! A blizzard is a specifically defined storm in which visibility is less than or equal to 0.25 miles, there is falling/blowing snow, and wind of at least 35 mph, all for more than three consecutive hours. This has never been recorded at KITH.

  2. Brad Preston, Class of 1973

    March 4, 1971 must have been close to 70° at 2:00 in the afternoon. By 3:00 it was down to 40 and by 4:00 it was snowing. The next morning I trudged through two feet of snow up to the Engineering Quad at 8:00 to take a Statistics prelim. The professor couldn’t make it into school but the TA was there with the test. Then we snaked our way over to Rockefeller for Physics. We were told the university was closed. I went back to the house and we spent the afternoon skiing down Edgemoor Lane.

    • Martin Root, Class of 1973

      I remember walking up from Mennen to Baker for an Organic Chem lab at 8:00 that morning in ankle deep snow. Later that morning when the class was cancelled and the university closed, I walked back down the hill in knee-deep snow.

    • Keith Lewin, Class of 1974

      Hi Brad! I remember that storm as well. I had a Plant Pathology lab experiment running in the Ag School greenhouses. I walked through the snow from Edgemoor Lane and back to take care of my plants. Later I learned they canceled that lab exercise due to the storm.

  3. Leland Mote 1956

    I was there from 52-56 and I remember removing snow from the seats so we could watch the football games. Cold and wind blown!

  4. Bob Everson, Class of 1961

    Barbara Ballweg ’61 and I walked around campus after the Feb ’61 storm and took a (35mm) Selfie in front of Goldwin Smith Hall. A copy of which was sent to CAN regarding a story about Cornell winters and was in it’s Letters to the Editor column.

    • Robert P Herwick MD, Class of 1964

      I remember that storm well. Took a lot of pictures that day and spent time roaming around the campus just to get some great shots

  5. George Ragsdale, Class of 1973

    Snow in May 1970

    • Lucrezia Herman, Class of 1976

      And during study week, May ‘73!

  6. Marc Milgrom, Class of 1994

    3/14/1993 was my 21st birthday! I thought it was kind and generous of the University to cancel classes for me. Students trayed and sledded (one on a textbook!) down Buffalo St. One insane dude attempted to ski through the trees in Cascadilla Gorge. He didn’t get far and thankfully was uninjured.
    Then the winter of ‘93-‘94 set a seasonal snowfall record. The piles of cleared snow lasted months, and we had bets going if there would still be snow at graduation. Missed by a couple weeks.
    Fun stories, but I don’t miss it at all.

    • Roberto Monserrate, Class of 1994

      Mark, good recap.
      I don’t miss that kind of weather either!!
      After that 1993 winter I knew I would go back to Puerto Rico!!

  7. Joel Ross, Class of 1975

    In late Fall 1971, we had the first major snowfall. I had been injured playing for the Freshman Soccer Team and was on crutches, so there was no way I could get up Libe Slope from Sibley Hall. However, I figured out that I could struggle to the back of Willard Straight Hall, take the freight elevator up to the ground floor, and then on to my classes on the Arts Quad. Medical Services obtained a special permit for me to use the elevator, so that saved the day. I might or might not have continued to use this method to conquer Libe Slope even after my knee fully healed, but my memory gets foggy.

    • Dan Dube, Class of 1980

      I was class of 1980. Sometime between falls semester 1977 and spring semester 1980, we had the second-ever cancellation of classes, so it was newsworthy. I recall the snow up to my knees, maybe more. Where does that rank on the list?

  8. Lucrezia Herman, Class of 1976

    January ‘78, the week before the spring semester started. I was living in CTown (Blair Street, off of Cook) and working at The Graduate School. We had a sizeable snowfall overnight and carrying on through the day, so grad student registration in Barton Hall was cancelled. Just as well as a massive snow drift had completely blocked off our house’s front steps and door and the screen door at the back was frozen solid. All of my housemates were undergrads, so not due back for another 2 days. Luckily a friend of mine around the corner came back early, with a snow shovel!

    • Lucrezia Herman, Class of 1976
      • Lucrezia Herman, Class of 1976

        Acvording to that site, Wednesday, January 18th, 1978 – 15 inches of snow. On top of whatever was there the day before. That sounds right for registration dates: Thursday/Friday for grad student Add/Drop, Monday-Wednesday the following week for undergrads. Back in the days when it was all done with 4-part manual forms and long lines.

    • Dave Gross, Class of 1980

      I was working at LASSP over the break and stayed at friends’ second story apartment. I cross country skied out the window and went onto an empty campus, no tracks in the snow at all.

  9. Mike Tannenbaum, Class of 1975

    In Spring 1972, when I was a freshman (known now as “first-years”), there was sufficient snow to close campus/cancel classes one Friday in late Feb or early March. Then, 10 days later, another snowfall cancelled classes on a Monday., givig us two consecutive 3-day weekends. But the greatest snowfall I experienced in the Ithaca area was in Feb 1978, about the same time as record snows buried Buffalo, I was living in Brooktondale, about 7-8 miles east of Ithaca, and after the plows came through, the snow at the sides of the road was almost as tall as me (^’1)!

    • Georgianne Hunt Austin, Class of 1975

      The chart posted above by Lucrezia lists February 1972 as 7th snowiest month in Ithaca at 37.1 inches. I was a freshman in Spring ’72 residing in Boldt Tower where our only exit door was blocked from opening one morning by the snow and we had to get friends at a neighboring dorm to come over to clear the snow from our door. I recall trudging up the hill early one morning after a snowstorm for a sparcely attended anthropology class that had not been cancelled and thinking you had to be tough to be a student at Cornell. Another substantial surprise snow in Spring ’72 fell after I had walked in sandals to stay for the weekend with friends on Buffalo St. I had to walk back to Boldt Tower through several inches of snow in just sandals and recall seeing people skiing down Buffalo St.

  10. Marisa Brook, Class of 2009

    Valentine’s Day 2007 ended up being the only time I saw Ithaca get pummeled. It was a Wednesday during a semester when my Wednesdays usually meant attending 7 classes/sections in a row, so it was a bit of unexpected relief when classes were canceled. After the storm passed, the sight I found the most striking was the picnic-table area outside the Big Red Barn: the benches were level with the top of the snow.

    (Footnote: the subsequent semester, I took a meteorology class with Mark Wysocki and absolutely loved it! He was engaging and hilarious.)

  11. Chris, Class of 1993

    Re: 1993

    “It barreled through Upstate New York on March 12 and 13, as students were returning from Spring Break.”

    My recollection was that storm was a week before Spring Break. I was working in a lab on Friday afternoon and the radio announcers were warning of a huge storm. At the time the sun was still out and we laughed it off. We wouldn’t have been in the lab on during Spring Break. Snow started that night and kept falling all day Saturday. County roads were closed so students couldn’t have been returning by car. The announcement that Monday classes were canceled came on early Sunday evening and we headed to the bars.

  12. Linda Hunt, Class of 1979

    I lived on Linden Avenue during January 1978. Snow, snow, snow just like Lucrezia shared. I remember putting on my crosscountry skis, and heading toward campus in the evening. Up the street, across the bridge, up the Engineering Quad. Somewhere near the Ag Quad we were skiing above the low walls. The street lights shimmering on the snow as we headed home is one of my favorite memories.

  13. David Behrmann, Class of 1987

    I don’t know how the Ithaca and beyond storms of 1977 and 1978 were overlooked. I was an undergraduate at IC at the time and I remember first hand that the accumulated snow from multiple storms reached a point where there was no where in which to plow it. The school had to bring in multiple dump trucks and front end loaders to remove enough of it to function. The trucks took their loads down to Lake Cayuga and dump them.

  14. Jay Silpe, Class of 1994

    The Sun says the March 1993 storm left 27-31 inches and it is not on your chart? Like the other comment, my 21st was on March 13 and everything was shut! I lived at the top of Williams and people were in mattresses going down the street. Madness!!

  15. fred schueler, Class of 1970

    No memorable snow storms from 1996-1970, but my experience of Ithaca weather led to the concept of the “slush storm” and that kids who grew up in Ithaca must think of the Sun as just being the Moon when it came up during the day, since they saw so little of either.

  16. Irene Hendricks, Class of 1986

    The storm of 1984 was a fun memory. Without internet or cell phones, and always having been told “Cornell never closes” I trudged up State Street to the corner of College Avenue to catch a bus to campus. A half hour later, a passing plow driver informed me that no city buses were running, and I bailed on my class (which I later found out was canceled). Still not sure if the University was officially closed…

  17. Adam Cohen, Class of 1993

    The March 3-4 1994 storm was big, too. The official total was just 20.3 inches of snow, but with 2.26 inches of precipitation, leading to a snow-water ratio of close to 9, pretty low for Ithaca, especially considering the high temperature of only 28F on both the 3rd and 4th. Meanwhile, the Feb 27 2010 storm had 21.7 inches of snow with only 1.92 inches of precipitation over the entire Feb 24-28 period, and even with warmer temperatures, 31 on the 27th. March 3-4 1994 should be in the list!

  18. Martin Rosenblum, Class of 1973

    In addition to the March 1971 storm, my freshman year saw 3 to 5 inches of sleet (much like a beach of ice sand), hail the size of golf balls, rainfall that turned stairs at University Halls (RIP) into waterfalls. My roommate at the time was majoring in meteorology and could not believe his luck (?!). He was hit with one of the hail stones and proudly showed off his ‘injury.’

  19. Adrienne Schwarz, Class of 1980

    It’s been a while so I don’t remember exactly what year it was in the late 1970’s(I was there ’76-’80), but I remember a bad snow storm hitting campus in May! It was a big surprise to have snow, let alone a real storm so late in the spring, but it has stayed in my memory all these decades! I don’t know if there was ever such a late snow storm again…:)

    • Mike Accardo, Class of 1979

      Had to be May 8-9, 1977, right? After the famous Grateful Dead concert? We all arrived to the concert early — no seat assignments! — wearing sweatshirts on a fairly mild spring day. Leaving the concert near midnight, it had already begun to snow. My recollection is that we ended up with 8-9 inches and that they closed campus the next day (maybe because it was Study Week and there were no classes). I have never been able to verify the snowfall by looking at historical records years later.

  20. Chris Williams, Class of 1967

    Early 1966. I watched it snow from a library (a place I rarely visited). It was evening and I saw a small pine tree get covered. That was my clue to ditch the studies and get in my trusty VW, gather some friends and plow through snow drifts. The fun came to a halt due to there being an unseen car in a drift. We were stuck but unhurt until we tried pulling it out. Injured my eye; police car then ambulance took me to the local hospital but it took the doctor 2 days to get to the hospital, due to the snow, and successfully see me up.

  21. K.P., Class of 2009

    The Valentine’s Day storm of 2007 will always hold a special place in my heart… my boyfriend (now husband) and I spent the day playing in the snow and celebrating the fact that we got a rest day from crew training, and after he helped me dig my car out that evening, I told him for the firs time that I loved him. We’ve never looked back since!

  22. Paula Millenthal Cantor, Class of 1959

    It was winter, either 1957 or 58. I was living at SDT on Ridgewood Avenue. My Highschool boyfriend, now at Amherst College, drove over for the weekend, staying at one of the nearby fraternity houses. The snow was already deep when he arrived … after all, it was Cornell in mid-winter. It snowed nonstop. His old green Buick got buried up to the windows, impossible to dig out. He had to get back to school on Sunday, so we called a tow truck, or maybe it was a plow. When the truck finally arrived, it promptly got stuck behind the car. The boyfriend couldn’t leave, had to stay another night and wait for a second truck to free up both vehicles on Monday. We never knew if his professors at Amherst believed his story as to why he missed classes that Monday, but I guess he charmed them the way he charmed me, because they let him make up the work and I let him put an engagement ring on my finger!

  23. J. Bryan, Class of 1985

    I was there for the March ’84 snowfall record, but the most memorable was snow on my birthday…at the end of April!! Least favorite snow memory has to be crossing the gorge from North Campus and nearly wiping out on that stupid metal plate!! Also of note, needing some of my guys from the Basketball Team to lift the rear end of my car so I could pull out from my parking space…once the snow melted, I found that I had backed up too far and was now dropped onto the sidewalk. Got my leaf springs replaced that summer lol

  24. Mike Accardo, Class of 1979

    OK, not a quantity record, but no mention of the surprise snow that awaited those of us leaving the legendary Grateful Dead concert on May 8, 1977? Two memories I could use some help on. First, the link above shows that only 2 inches of snow fell on the 9th (and none on the 8th). But I could swear there was already snow on the ground when we left Barton Hall and I thought we ended up with 8-9 inches by morning. Second, I’m almost sure that the university closed on Monday, the 9th. It wasn’t a big deal because it was the first day of Study Week, but this contradicts what I read in the article about university closings. Help!

  25. Carolyn Hill Rogers, Class of 1959

    In the 50’s, I recall lots of snowy days on the hill. I can still see students trudging through the snow, our boots making loud crunching sounds, since the snow wasn’t cleared off yet. Campus was strangely quiet. No buses then, and walking to the quad or Martha Van was an adventure–camel coats, scarves blowing.
    I lived at the Pi Beta Phi house on Triphammer–a long walk. We took it all “in stride”, and the good memories are still with me.

  26. Catherine A Owen, Class of 1968

    What about the Blizzard of ‘66? I seem to recall that final exams had to be rescheduled because heavy snow kept many professors from being able to get to campus.

  27. Bill Fitzsimmons, Class of 1967

    I recall the blizzard in January 1966. But, I was more impressed by the 4 inches of snow we had around Mothers Day that year.

  28. Brian O'Connor, Class of 1970

    Recalling the December 27, 1969 snow, right after the first of the year, I drove my brand-new VW Beetle (which I still have) back to campus from Illinois. When I arrived at the DKE house, I had to spend 1.5 hours digging a path from the archway to a parking space.

    During senior year, I had a part-time job working at an accounting firm in town that did the books for many local businesses. When I would post receipts, I noticed that, for some reason, none of them seemed to have any transactions for the last few days of December.


    I don’t remember the exact date, but once during the winter of 1976-77, classes were canceled because the power had been knocked out by a storm. Maybe that is why it was not considered a “snow day”. I lived on State Street and was almost to campus when a friend told me the news.

  30. Don Koch, Class of 1974

    I remember March 1971. Classes cancelled. Then the freshmen crew coach called and said get up to Teagle for practice. Took quite a while to hike up the hill from U Halls to Teagle. We practiced in Barton, nobody else there.

  31. Tim Lynch, Class of 1990

    Two memories come to mind:

    1) I remember hearing on a tour at some point that the only calendar month where Ithaca’s never seen snow is July. June I can well understand, as there were flurries during May exams one year I was there … but August? AUGUST? I want to know what was going on in whatever year that was.

    2) Fall 1987. I was living over in Eco House with a bunch of friends (all physics majors). We had Physics 218, which met at 11:15 on T/Th/Sat. There was a fairly big snowfall on Friday — not record-setting or anything, but enough to make Saturday morning a real slog. We made our way to Rockefeller (with at least one friend cross-country skiing if memory serves), only to find a note on the door from the professor’s secretary saying that class had been cancelled by said professor. We all liked him and knew he had a newborn in the house, so we forgave him, but there was definitely some grumbling on the way back to the dorm.

  32. Sarah Lister, Class of 1979

    Hmmm. Data. One of the biggest snow events occurred over several days. The winter of 77-78, as I recall, it snowed >1ft every other day ×3. The National Guard was brought in to remove snow from Collegetown and downtown.

  33. Marlene Alpert Tein, Class of 1961

    Brrr. I still remember winter of 1958, my freshman year. We had a huge snowfall-never called it a blizzard. It was January or February and all the schools and colleges in central New York were closed except Cornell. Our classes were not cancelled! I remember walking outside Balch Hall on the “balcony” but did not realize where the balcony ended and landed in the snow literally up to my hip. That was the day when the administration finally allowed women to wear slacks to classes…for the day! Because the snow was so deep.! After that, back to skirts, etc for the next few years.!

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