Windchill and Class Cancellation

What might a windchill-based class cancellation policy look like? Now is the time to think about this given the recent January 29-31 weather event.



Perspectives (Student Disability Services)
Cold Weather Safety
Clothing Advice (International Services, Office of Global Learning)
Windchill and Time-to-Frostbite Chart (NWS)
Ithaca Windchill Liklihoods Based on 1973-2017 Data
Ithaca Windchill: Jan 30-Feb 1 (Hourly)
Chicago Windchill: Jan 30- Feb 1 (Hourly)
Cornell to Stay Open Amid Wind Chill in Minus 20s…s (Cornell Sun 1/31)
Dean of Faculty Seeks Data After Days of Wintry Weather (Cornell Sun 2/4) (PDF of full comments received)



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81 thoughts on “Windchill and Class Cancellation

  1. I pay way too much for school for class to be canceled because of windchill. I was perfectly capable of walking to class (and I live in the commons) the cost benefit analysis of canceling class more frequently should be seriously considered. This not an excuse to disrupt the course schedule, there are university students who commute for hours, and endure weather many times more severe than frozen wind-chill, in order to attend classes. This is ridiculous and I ask my opinion is considered.

  2. I thought the walk to class last week felt perfectly safe during the day. Walking home at night was less tolerable, but that was my choice to stay on campus late. 8:40am class felt fine to walk to – I just took the advice to wear 2 pants, 2 shirts, 2 hats, etc.

    I support classes continuing to be held in these environments and for classes where participation is factored into the grade, teachers should be told to treat all absences on extreme weather days as excused absences so students aren’t directly penalized if they feel unsafe to walk.

    You can also hold a “zoom” training session for all professors to be prepared to just teach virtually via zoom if the weather is truly unbearable.

  3. I do not think classes should have been cancelled. We all pay a ton of money for these classes and should be cancelling as few as possible. The weather was cold, but with a jacket and warm socks (~$100 total) the ~15 minute walk that most students make to campus, or taking the bus seems very reasonable. My face was exposed to the elements and I didn’t lose any pieces of it to the cold. If we had weather like Chicago where it was actually dangerous to step outside, then a closure should be considered.
    I think it is fair to assume that most students have warm clothes, we are at Cornell! If it is the case that some students cannot afford winter clothes, the university should help provide students with the necessary clothes considering they probably need them even if temperatures do not drop below 0.
    On days that were as cold as the one we had, maybe professors should be encouraged to find ways to live stream their classes (Nate Foster who teaches CS3110 held a Zoom video conference of the class that day) so that students who truly cannot make it to campus don’t miss out on material.
    I think the push by students to cancel classes is ridiculous and hyperbolic, the conditions that we experienced were really not so extreme.

    1. While I appreciate your comment, I feel it is misguided. As it has been stated in multiple comments, the financial burden to buy the clothes needed for this kind of weather goes beyond what is capable for many. Your phrasing gives the impression that you are brushing off $100 with relative ease when $100 is quite a bit of money that some cannot afford to spend, especially with all the other associated costs of attending Cornell (e.g. printing, rent, food, textbooks, bus passes, etc.). While Cornell has some good-will programs in place to provide winter clothes, they do not go far enough nor would they help those students with other reasons for not being able to step outside, like common medical conditions such as asthma. We should not be forced to choose between our dinner or warm socks.

      Furthermore, that you “didn’t lose any pieces of [your face] to the cold” is frankly a ridiculous metric to judge the severity of the weather. While it was not as cold as Chicago, -24ºF windchill can induce hypothermia and frostbite in under 5 minutes in unexposed skin. That is severe. Many of us from warmer climates, like California, are unprepared for conditions as severe as this. It is dangerous to assume most students would know what its like to have experienced weather like this.

      I know that it is an inconvenience to cancel class and close campus, but for the safety of the students, faculty, and non-critical staff, it is imperative that Cornell revise its school cancellation policy to reflect a balanced and fair approach that is in-line with its peers in the Northeast.

      Cornell: amend the school cancellation policy.

  4. Cornell’s accessibility has always been inadequate, and their accomodations for bad weather are non-existent. It was dangerous enough for able-bodied people to go to school, and for a lot of us disabled students, such was an impossible feat.
    No matter how many times I took my inhaler, the air would tear up my throat, making me unable to breathe. The temperature was so bad, even a scarf did not help. I also have mobility issues, and many pathways and inclines were caked in ice. One of my classes that day takes you down an entire letter grade for missing two classes in a semester, but I had no choice but to turn around and go home. I have Reunaud’s as well, so I got frostbite in my toes and fingers, anyways, even with protection. We should not be forced to choose between our life and academics.

  5. I think the policy when you can get frostbite in 10-20 minutes should be that classes are at the very least not mandatory. This means teachers should post slides/notes and classes that take attendance should not take attendance. Making buses free doesn’t help because there are not enough buses to accommodate all Cornell students walking to class.

  6. An idiotic decision. With clear signs of extreme danger, a cancellation was not just warranted, but logical. I hope Martha learns that missing a day of class has never killed anyone, but the conditions of the last week killed at least 10. Unbelievable.

  7. I would cancel classes when we are under a dangerous windchill warning of negative 10 or below, because students and many staff members don’t know how to dress properly for that kind of cold. Not many people can afford the appropriate winter garments.

    For those who have health issues that are exacerbated by the dangerously low wind chills, Cornell ought to offer them either the option to Zoom in for a class or excuse their absence without deducting points.

    Additionally, Cornell does an awful job of plowing sidewalks so wheelchair users and people on crutches may opt out of going to classes. Sidewalks still had a lot of snow on them and were difficult to walk (near Stocking and Bradfield) on even for an able bodied person.

  8. I live in Risley Hall, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my first class is in Statler Hall. It’s not a terribly far walk, so I walked to class on Thursday. By the time I reached Uris Hall, I could barely feel my legs. Regardless of the fact that the windchill was not as low as expected, -10 degrees Fahrenheit is not a reasonable temperature to make students come out in. Yes, the TCAT was free that day, but it was free for everyone, so anyone trying to take advantage of that would have to wait on a very busy bus stop for a TCAT to come along and pray that it wasn’t full (spoiler alert: it was probably gonna be full). There are some things worth risking your life and (literally) limbs for. One day’s worth of classes is not one of them. When the windchill is below zero, that should be a good sign that people shouldn’t be going outside.

  9. I think it’s ridiculous how an IBM-funded president with a 20 second walk from her car to the building can be expected to make decisions for thousands of students who have to walk a mile or more to class. Why should this power be vested in the president?

  10. I believe that there are a number of students on this campus who do not know how to dress warmly enough for wind chill conditions or simply do not have appropriate clothing. For example, I am from Texas, which means most of my clothes were bought in Texas, where it doesn’t get very cold. Thus, my clothing is thinner than normal, so even two or three layers wasn’t enough to sufficiently protect myself against the wind this past week. While I do understand that there is a budget increase available for students from warmer climates, this does not help the week before a weather event like this occurs. Therefore, I believe that classes should be cancelled when temperatures and wind chill drop substantially below what Ithaca is used to, in order to protect students like me who simply do not have appropriate weather gear, to include students from warmer climates as well as freshmen who have not experience Ithaca winters yet.

    Additionally, I believe that if a threat only applies to early morning and evening events, they should be cancelled instead of cancelling the entire day. Prelims can be moved and classes can be rescheduled, but a student shouldn’t have to choose between their safety and their grade in a class.

  11. It’s completely unreasonable to assume that every student has appropriate attire for windchills as cold as those we just experienced. Not every student here at Cornell can afford to pay for expensive winter jackets designed for that type of weather, and some cannot afford to purchase bus passes that they may only use once or twice in an event like this. Even with free TCAT bus rides, most buses are full, making it impossible to get to class on time without using outside sources such as Uber, which can surge to as much as $30 for one ride. Additionally, more affordable housing tends to be located further from campus, giving some students a walk that is close to 30 minutes. This proves dangerous in windchill conditions of -20 or below. For a school that claims to be inclusive and understanding of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses, it was extremely disappointing to see the administration blatantly disregard these considerations when making their decision last week.

  12. I think it’s pretty self explanatory. If scientists say we could die within ten minutes of being outside, then cancel classes. It’s really not that difficult to comprehend.

  13. If the windchill and inclement weather pose such a barrier to students for getting to class the university should coordinate with shuttle services to ensure all students can make it to class safely and warmly.

  14. I think having class without adequate amounts of on campus transportation provided by Cornell was extremely negligent and irresponsible. In addition to falling on uncleared snow during my commute to class, I was so cold that I couldn’t even focus.

    Despite all of that, I would find it reasonable to have class of Martha Pollack was seen spending time outdoors on campus, and walking between classes from north or west campus like we were all expected to.

  15. I think that keeping classes open during the January 29-31, 2019 weather event was the right decision. I can only speak from my experience, but I just threw on an extra layer and continued to bike to class as normal. For non-bikers, I think the city’s decision to make busses free was a great decision.

    The only way I think the university’s response could have been improved is to stress the importance of wearing layers in order to keep warm (not just one big coat).

    1. What was the material your layers were made of? Can you share tips how you accomplished this amazing feat of biking in -20/-30 wind-chill? Do you think students who haven’t grown up in cold climates even know *what* to wear as “layers” or have the capacity to buy Canada Goose or Patagonia items? If Cornell cannot guarantee and/or educate every student (especially international and non-cold climate natives), then resources need to be invested in ensuring everyone has the right knowledge, financial ability, and awareness. I

  16. On my walk back from Statler to collegetown on 1/30 and 1/31, my fingers were freezing through my gloves. It was very painful.

  17. We cannot assume that all students have quality winter clothing that can protect them. While some students have no problem with this, winter coats are expensive and many students are forced to wear clothing that does not protect them effectively. Forcing students to go to class in intense cold makes it more difficult and potentially dangerous for students of a lower socioeconomic background and is thus classist. – Jyne Dunbar ‘22

  18. The cold greatly affected my asthma. I had to make a 15-20 minute walk to class due to an attendance policy that would otherwise affect my grade. I ended up having an asthma attack induced by the cold, dry air, and focusing in class was incredibly difficult afterwards.

  19. It was extremely cold, quite inhumane to make students walk in that weather when schools in Ithaca and the North East shut down. I could not feel my hands for 2 hours after coming home. Even though the TCAT was kind enough to be free, there werent enough buses for students.
    Cornell needs to think about their students for once.
    Cornell could consider doing web videos of lectures or something.

  20. I was extremely disappointed when school wasn’t cancelled and was appalled at the fact that I had to go to class. I wore 6 layers and yet my face could not be covered and so I could not feel my face by the time I got to my destination. I understand there was no snow however for the safety of your students this needs to be addressed. Thank you

  21. I was taking the bus back home but it was 20 minutes late. I was out in a -4 degrees weather, but feels like -24 degrees with the wind chill. I now have a cold and a fever. I was planning on taking the bus to avoid being out in the cold. I also lost feeling of my fingers and almost got frostbites.

  22. I think it is unfair to except all students to be prepared to have clothing that can protect them from such dramatic temperatures, especially those coming from homes with warmer climates and not having the financial recourses to go out and buy more clothes when wind-chill reaches dangerous temperatures. I also think it is extremely unfair to make us choose between our safety and our grades. Many messages told us to stay inside whenever possible and if it was unsafe for us to go to class stay inside; however at the same time since class was not canceled, by staying in the shelter of our dorms, and not walking across campus in the minus 20* weather, we would have lost points and valuable instruction in all of our classes.
    The message from the university was basically if it gets worse; we will cancell. However since the media and weather showed horrifyingly cold temperatures, it gave us little way to reasonably prepare because we did not know if we were going to need to go to class or not. I think most students completely understand that cancelling class is a burden on all parties involved, however the safety of everyone should be considered above all else.

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