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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

Snow Days FAQ

1. What is  the “operating status” of the University?

The University is either open, partially closed, or closed. There is is also the notion of a delayed opening.

2. What does it mean to be partially closed?

Roughly, this means that most administrative offices are closed but that classes continue.

3. What is a delayed start?

After bad weather ends it may take a while for the roads to be sufficiently cleared. In these situations the University may indicate (for example) that it is opening at 10AM.

4. Who makes the decision to change the operating status?

The Vice President of Infrastructure Properties and Planning is responsible for making the final decision assisted by the Weather Incident Leadership Team. That group consists of the Vice President Human Resources, the Vice President University Relations, the Vice President for Student and Campus Life, the Dean of Faculty, the Associate Vice President for Environmental Health and Safety, and the Cornell Police Chief.

5. How is the situation on campus assessed?

The Weather Incident Leadership Team is assisted by the Associate Vice President Facilities Management, the Grounds Department, the Department of Transportation and Mail Services, the Associate Director of Emergency Management and Business Continuity, the EHS Emergency Manager, and University Communications.

6. How does the shutdown team get  its weather information?

There are a number of different sources: (a) the Designated Weather Watcher (DWW), (b) forecasts from a number of meteorological services, (c) reports on local and campus road conditions from the Cornell University Police Department, (d) Grounds Care, (e) Facilities Operations, and (f) the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department.

Aside: The DWW is an individual from the Office of Emergency Management, appointed by the Executive Vice President, who assists in the monitoring and assessment of weather conditions during periods of potential or actual inclement weather.  The DWW is responsible for notifying key campus personnel.  The DWW reviews information provided by the National Weather Service, including briefings and webinars directed at emergency management personnel, subscription weather services, publicly available weather web sites, and the Cornell University Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

7. Are there snowfall-per-hour guidelines that factor into a shutdown decision?

Snow fall per hour is one of the factors that Cornell uses while evaluating our ability to maintain safe walkways, clear parking lots and campus roads.

8. 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 the 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 waiting for a bus. It would be rare for Cornell to close on the basis of temperature alone.

School districts build snow days into their calendars- if they don’t use them they give students extra time off; if they do use more than the allotted number of days, districts have the option to make up days from scheduled breaks (in April for example).  We don’t have that flexibility. Consequently, school districts typically maintain a lower tolerance and acceptance for disruptions than institutes of higher education.

9. 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. Cornell does not use this as a determining factor in our decision process, as the impact to operations of the other educational institutions along with their ability to maintain a safe campus (e.g., how they handle the snow removal operations) are different for them than at Cornell.

10. Is it true that many of our employees have  a significant commute to work?

The approximate where-you-live distribution is as follows:  Ithaca (3100), Dryden (600), Lansing (280), Trumansburg (290), Cortland (310), Groton (290), Newfield (230), Candor (230), Spencer V-E (170), Moravia (150), Newark Valley (140),  Owego (60),plus others. For faculty it is Ithaca (1200), Dryden (50), Lansing (40), Trumansburg (20), plus others.

11. What  communication is there  between Cornell and the area bus services when bad weather sets in? In particular, with TCAT, Cortland Public Transit, Tioga County Public Transit, and Chemung/Schuyler Public Transit.

Transportation staff regularly communicate with representatives from area bus services (TCAT ,  Cortland Transit , Chemung Public Transport) and provide an updated status of public transportation.

12. 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, we don’t maintain the same type of communications with other county sheriffs.

13. Suppose while I am at work that the roads close in the county where I live. Will I get in trouble if I drive home and how would my insurance company react if I get in an accident?

All vehicle travel to and from work, regardless of conditions (e.g., avoid unnecessary travel, closed roads), is addressed by the employee’s personal auto insurance (there is no exclusion under personal auto policies for damage to a vehicle when driving on “closed” roads). Employees are encouraged to contact their insurance providers if they have questions.

14. What are “essential services” and how does that arrangement work?

Essential services are those needed on campus to meet the needs of students, research programs, or general operations when the university and/or the local roads are closed. Certain employees in these units who have been pre-identified  have specialized training required to do the work, and/or they have assignments directly related to critical research. This includes, but is not limited to, individuals providing critical dining or health services, those needed to tend critical research experiments needing regular attention, those tending to the needs of research animals, or those in critical physical plant or safety operations.

If you are a manager in an area where essential employees must report to or remain at work even when the university is closed, you must do the following prior to winter weather:
•  Ensure that the applicable job description(s) clearly state this requirement.
•  Ensure that these staff members are identified as essential employees in your unit emergency plans, and that they are aware of their status.
•  Verify that each essential employee who will be needed to report to work during a university and/or road closure understands the timing of his or her shift and has an opportunity to discuss any issues or concerns.

If a staff member is not sure whether their department performs “essential services” during inclement weather, they should ask their supervisor.

15. Are there special rules about parking when the University closes?

Essential personnel who arrive at central 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.

16. How can I find out if the university is closed?

As described in Policy 8.2, the operating status can be determined by following a link on the Cornell home page. Local radio and television announce closings and delayed starts. Other communication channels:

  1. If the university closes or changes the operating status it is announced using the CornellALERT notification system. To sign up to receive these notifications, go to:
  2. The status is also posted to
  3. Call 607-255-3377 for information regarding the present or predicted operating status of the university.

17. What are the rules about compensation during a shutdown?

In general, non-essential staff are paid at their regular rate when the University is closed. Essential staff are paid time-and-a-half plus paid leave for the hours worked during the closing.

18. How does compensation work if the University closes midday?

In the event of a delayed opening, partial closing, or closing, regular full-time and part-time employees who are not required to report to or remain at work will be paid at their regular rate for regularly scheduled hours while the university is closed.

Nonexempt employees should record this time as “paid leave.”

Regular full-time or part-time nonexempt employees who are required to work during a delayed opening, partial closing, or full closing will receive pay at time and one-half their normal rate for hours actually worked, plus paid leave equal to the hours worked during this closing. Alternatively, upon mutual agreement between the employee and the supervisor, the nonexempt employee may receive straight pay for the day, plus paid leave equal to one and one-half times the number of hours actually worked during this closing. All paid leave must be taken by October 15, or it will be forfeited. The time and attendance system is the official accrual record for paid leave for nonexempt staff members.

Compensation during inclement weather for employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreement is subject to the provisions of their contracts.

19. What are the compensation rules if I am able to work from home during a shut down?

Consult with your unit’s Human Resources staff for specific guidance.

20. Policy 8.2 says  that all employees should remain at home if they deem it too dangerous to travel or if a local school closing creates a child care situation. What if my supervisor questions my decision to stay home?

Supervisors must be flexible regarding staff members’ needs during periods of inclement weather, especially if a long commute to and from work is involved. Consult with your unit’s Human Resources staff for specific guidance

21. Will the University help with lodging if I am unable to travel home after a midday closing?

These decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis and the needs of the university. Colleges and units may also make this decision based on their needs.

22. I teach a small class and was 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?

It should be appreciated that there  is more to safety than just a willingness to trudge through the snow. What if a student is struck by a car on campus because an impassable sidewalk made walking in the street necessary to get to class? For reasons like that, holding class when the university has closed for safety reasons is not authorized. A faculty member who chooses to ignore the decision will be personally liable for any claims that might result.

23. Is there a contingency plan that makes it easier to reschedule weather-cancelled evening prelims?

Before the actual the severe weather arrives, the Office of the University Registrar will contact instructors of possibly-cancelled prelims with various make-up options, e.g., Wednesday (evening), Saturday (afternoon), Sunday (afternoon/evening)  and  Monday (evening). Room reservation support can be expected.

24. What if the university is closed on a day when a final exam is scheduled?

Before the actual the severe weather arrives, the Office of the University Registrar will contact instructors of possibly-cancelled final exams  with various make-up options. Those options will depend on where in the exam period the weather disruption occurs.

25. 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?

This can be difficult since scheduling make-up labs “soon enough” can be problematic given facilities limitations  and the necessity of staying  in sync with the un-cancelled labs. Compressing and doubling up with the next week lab is sometimes the only option.

26. What can I do in advance of a snow day to ensure  that I am ready?

(a) Make sure you know how to reach your class via email, e.g., via Faculty Center. (b) Use Blackboard or some other related system that enables students to access course materials over the Web. More.



Last Updated: November 24, 2017 at 6:38 pm