Ithaca winters are typical of those elsewhere in the northeastern United States—in general, extremely cold! When the strong winds of Ithaca combine with low temperatures it becomes harder to keep warm. For example, if the temperature is 20°F (-7°C) but the wind is blowing at a speed of 35 mph (56 kph), then the wind-chill temperature is -20°F (-29°C). The snow also makes winter uncomfortable. Ithaca can get as much as 125 inches (316 cm) in one winter. There are usually one or two days each winter when brisk winds combine with very low temperatures to produce potentially dangerous conditions.
You will be doing a lot of walking while at Cornell. The winter snow and ice, combined with the hilly terrain make it very difficult to walk, so a good pair of boots is essential.
Dressing in removable layers which you can take off or put back on as you need will help you to cope with the temperature differences you may encounter in entering and leaving campus buildings, which are often overheated.
Your comfort depends on the quality of your clothing. All clothing is required to have a label which describes clothing fiber content and clothing care, so you can always find out exactly what you are buying.
Down jackets and full-length down coats are warmest, and since most of them already have a nylon outer shell, they provide the best protection against the wind. Even though down garments are costly, they are a good investment. Wool is the next best insulator and, although not effective against the wind, it is warm even when wet. Leather is very effective against the wind, but it is a poor insulator and inadequate for Ithaca’s winters.
You may be tempted to buy cotton and acrylic sweaters, since they tend to be cheaper than wool. Cotton and acrylic have very little insulating value, so these will not keep you warm enough. It’s worth paying a little more for a good wool sweater.
Your feet will become wet and cold if you do not wear good foot protection. It’s best to buy leather hiking-type boots with insulated lining and thick rubber soles with lots of tread. These will keep your feet warm and will make walking on the ice easier, but they will not keep your feet dry unless you waterproof them yourself with silicon spray. You can buy silicon spray at the shoe store when you buy your boots. Vinyl boots are waterproof but will not keep your feet warm. Avoid wearing boots that have high heels or smooth soles. For safer walking on the snow and ice, wear boots with lower heels and treaded soles. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask a friend who has been here for at least one winter season.
Clothing in Ithaca tends to be expensive, but there are some places where you can buy good-quality clothing fairly inexpensively. You may want to try the Bon Ton, Sears or Target in the Shops of Ithaca Mall.
The best time to shop is during a sale. Some stores have pre-season winter clothing sales in October, and most have sales right after Christmas. Don’t think that this will be too late—January and February are Ithaca’s coldest months!
Many Americans buy used clothing which is often of good quality and very cheap. For used clothing, try Trader-K on the Commons in downtown Ithaca, or the Salvation Army Store on Elmira Road (Route 13 South).