Inclement Weather FAQs
- What is the "operating status" of the university?
Refers to the operating schedule of the university. In other words, when the university is open, normal schedules and operations apply, whereas, normal operations and schedules are suspended when the university is closed. The university also has a delayed opening (commencement of the day's normal operating schedule is delayed until a time set by the university) and early closing (the normal operating schedule is suspended at a time set by the university).
- Who makes the decision to change the operating status?
The President or designee authorizes any change to the operating status of the university, based on a recommendation from the Incident Leadership Team (Executive Vice President; Vice Presidents for University Relations, Human Resources, Student and Campus Life, and Infrastructure, Properties and Planning; Senior Vice Provost; Dean of Faculty; University Counsel; President's Chief of Staff; Cornell Police Chief; and Associate Vice President Environmental Health & Safety). The Incident Leadership Team receives information from the weather Incident Management Team (see #4).
- How does the university get its weather information?
The university assigns a Designated Weather Watcher (DWW) within the Office of Emergency Management. The DWW consults a variety of weather forecasting and alerting products, including subscription services, National Weather Service forecasts, alerts, and emergency management briefings, other commercial weather service resources, and briefings from faculty in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences to monitor and identify potential severe or inclement weather. The DWW is responsible for engaging key campus personnel in the assessment.
- How does the university assess conditions on campus?
The weather Incident Management Team, composed of representatives from Facilities Management, Grounds Department, Transportation, Cornell Police, University Communications, and the Office of Emergency Management, evaluates expected weather conditions and the ability to maintain campus in a safe and passable condition. Additionally, the Team considers snowfall rate, existing snow on ground, timing, and availability of snow related resources.
- Are there snowfall-per-hour guidelines that factor into a closing decision?
Yes. Snowfall rates greater than one inch per hour for at least three hours will usually exceed our ability to remove snow and maintain clear walkways, parking lots, and campus roads.
- Are local school closings taken into consideration? If so, how?
Although we are aware when local schools close, we do not use this as a determining factor in our decision process. The weather impacts to local school operations are different from those that affect Cornell University operations. For example, public schools consider the impact associated with children standing outside in extreme cold, wind, and snow while waiting for the school bus. Additionally, school districts will build snow days into their calendars, and thus have greater flexibility and lower tolerance for disruptions.
- Is there an awareness of what other universities and colleges are doing in our geographic area?
Yes, we are aware when other local universities and colleges delay opening or close. However, there can be vast differences in the capabilities of institutions to maintain a safe campus and minimize operational impacts, and so actions by other institutions are not major factors for consideration.
- What communication is there between Cornell and the area bus services when inclement weather sets in?
The Incident Management Team, including Transportation staff, communicate with the area bus services to coordinate the transportation plan when a decision is made to close, and provide an updated status of public transportation during the closure and reopening. You can find information about local and regional bus service at TCAT System Alerts, Chemung County Transit, or Cortland Public Transit.
- What about travel to and from work? Will I get in trouble if I drive on a closed road?
If a county or municipality announces that people should "avoid unnecessary travel" (travel to and from work is considered necessary travel) and there isn't any accompanying change to the university operating status, employees should make reasonable efforts to report to work as usual. However, employees are advised to avoid undue risks in traveling, and may choose to use personal or vacation time. Employees who anticipate arriving late or not at all should notify their immediate supervisor as soon as possible. If a municipality or county announces that motorists are prohibited from driving on all or some of the roads, employees are not expected to violate those rules in order to come to work. Although it is difficult to predict that actions of law enforcement in individual counties, commuting home from work is a legitimate reason for travel. All vehicle travel to and from work, regardless of conditions is addressed by the employee's personal auto insurance. Employees are encouraged to contact their insurance providers if they have questions.
- Are there special rules about parking when the university closes?
Personnel who arrive on campus before the scheduled opening time, or when the university is closed, should park in the parking garage or at other designated "overnight winter parking areas.
- The authority to close the roads in a particular county rests with that county's sheriff. How does communication work between Cornell and the sheriffs of Tompkins, Tioga, Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, and Cayuga counties work?
Cornell Police regularly communicate with the Tompkins County Sheriff. However, they don't maintain that same type of communications with other county sheriffs.
- What is an "essential service"?
When normal university operations are disrupted because of weather impacts, various units must still provide essential services to sustain critical campus operations and mission functions. Essential services may be an ongoing need, or context specific and thus vary depending on incident, time of year, or day of week. Your respective department or unit should determine if they provide essential services, and if applicable, the employees (or employee categories) who may be asked to provide those services. Managers and supervisors should discuss and document responsibilities and expectations with employees, and how essential services are to be provided (e.g., on campus, remote). Additionally, managers and supervisors should provide each employee an opportunity to discuss any issues or concerns, and develop contingency plans to deliver essential services with a reduced number of employees. Managers can consult with their college/unit Human Resource representative for assistance in identifying essential services, staffing levels, and the procedures in support of their business continuity plan.
- How can I find out about a closing or change in university operations?
You can find information at emergency.cornell.edu, as well as Cornell's Twitter and Facebook pages; via emergency mass notification email, text, and voice messages; on local and regional radio and television stations; and the Inclement Weather Phone at 607-255-3377. Go to emergency.cornell.edu/alert to sign up to receive emergency mass notifications on your mobile phone.
- What are the rules regarding compensation during a change in operating status of the university?
In the event of an early closing, delayed opening, or full closing, employees and supervisors at all Cornell work locations, except Weill Cornell Medicine, should consult the Guidelines for Pay Practices During Inclement Weather.
- What are the compensation rules if I am able to work from home during a closing?
Employees and supervisors at all Cornell work locations, except Weill Cornell Medicine, should consult the Guidelines for Pay Practices During Inclement Weather.
- Policy 8.2 says that employees should use their judgment regarding travel in inclement weather and avoid undue risks, or record time off when local school closings create unexpected family care responsibilities. What if my supervisor questions my decision to stay home?
Supervisors should be flexible regarding staff members' needs during periods of inclement weather, especially if a long commute to and from work is involved. Nevertheless, you should consult your unit's Human Resources staff for specific guidance.
- Will the university help with lodging if I am unable to travel home after a midday closing?
These decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. Consult with leadership in your unit.
- I teach a small class and I am able to determine that everybody is willing and able to walk to class. Am I allowed to hold class even if the University is officially closed?
The short answer is no. There is more to consider than just a willingness to trudge through the snow. University and contractor resources work very hard to remove snow in a timely manner, which requires individuals to stay off roads and sidewalks. We don't want a student struck by a car on campus because they were forced to walk in the road because of an impassable sidewalk, for example. Therefore, holding class when the university is closed is prohibited.
- Is there a contingency plan that makes it easier to reschedule weather-cancelled evening prelims?
Before the onset of inclement weather, the Office of the University Registrar will contact instructors whose prelims may be cancelled and offer make-up options (e.g., Wednesday evening, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, Monday evening). The Registrar's Office will provide support for room reservations.
- I teach a large course that has labs scheduled every day of the week. Thus, if we have a one-day weather event it knocks out the lab component of our course for the entire week. Is there anything we can do about this?
Unfortunately, there are few options. However, we recommend that you contact the Office of the University Registrar to discuss various make-up options and availability of alternative lab spaces and times.