Polar vortex prompts campus-wide cancellation of classes, activities at the designation of the president

Colleges and universities across the country cancelled activities on Jan. 30 and Thursday Jan. 31 because of intense cold temperatures and quick wind chills. Geneseo cancelled classes and activities on Thursday Jan. 31 because of inclement weather. 

The low temperature on Thursday was -2 degrees Fahrenheit and wind gusts were as quick as 12 mph. With the wind chill, the actual temperature was -20 degrees at the coldest point in the day, according to the National Weather Service. 

Although she is not directly involved in the decision to cancel, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stacey Robertson underscored the importance of safety in cancelling activities for the day.

“The decision to cancel class was, and always is, in the best interest of everybody in the institution,” Robertson said. “It is the responsibility of the college president or the chief of University Police.”

According to Geneseo’s Class Cancellation and Extraordinary Weather Conditions Policy, only the governor has the authority to close state facilities and offices. In extreme weather conditions or a general emergency, the college president may decide to delay or cancel classes.

“A designated small subgroup of the College’s Incident Management Team monitor weather patterns in the region through a number of weather models prepared by the National Weather Service out of Buffalo,” Director of Environmental Health and Safety Chuck Reyes said in a statement. “When it seems as if those weather patterns may impact our campus, we also include other information such as state and regional travel advisories and bans.”

According to the National Weather Service, on Jan. 30 the low temperature was -2 degrees, and the maximum wind speed was 16 MPH. At the coldest point in the day, the actual temperature was -26 degrees. 

“The College made a decision, I think a good decision, to close on Thursday,” Robertson said. “There were institutions in Rochester that did not make that decision to cancel on Thursday, [which] did not make it easier for us to decide. It turns out that Thursday was warmer than we predicted it was going to be, but the decision was made based on what we believed to be the best for the College.”

According to a weather report posted by The Weather Channel, wind chills can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.

“The decision to cancel is about bringing together study safety,” Robertson said. “Predicting the weather, faculty and staff concerns and obviously safety is at the top of the list.” 

University Police Chief Thomas Kilcullen is responsible for monitoring weather reports and road conditions for the college, according to Geneseo’s Class Cancellation and Extraordinary Weather Conditions Policy. Kilcullen will advise the president if reports indicate that conditions will severely hinder students and employees from safely traveling to and/or from the College.

“People are getting up in the middle of the night and looking at weather patterns when a decision like this is to be made,” Robertson said. “I went to breakfast with Chief Kilcullen and he looked at me and said he had slept eight hours all week and that he had been constantly analyzing three different weather reports.” 

According to a weather report by The Weather Channel, a wind chill watch was in effect from 6 a.m. on Wednesday until 6 p.m. on Thursday. The report also mentioned that temperatures could reach as low as -25 degrees in Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston and Allegany county. 

“The institution is committed to ensuring safety for our most vulnerable students,” Robertson said. “For whom getting to and from class is a challenge, those are the students we consider first. We make the best decision we can, and we truly thought it was in the best interest of the institution.” 

The email sent to students with the declaration that classes and activities were cancelled on Thursday was sent at 5:25 a.m. and explained that students with medical or mobility concerns are encouraged to reach out to the Dean of Students or UPD.

Students felt supportive of the idea behind cancelling classes due to the cold. Over 4,500 people signed the petition, “Cancel SUNY Geneseo Classes on January 30 and 31 for Unsafe Weather Conditions,” which was created by biology major junior Emily Cataldo.

“I think that school should have been closed, but I also feel that the petition was a bit unnecessary,” mathematics major sophomore Abraham Brooks said. “I think it was fueled by students who wanted to skip class and I don’t think they were incredibly concerned about their health. I think the whole thing was a bit exaggerated.”