Surviving Ithaca Winters

Ithaca Weather

Ithaca winters are typical of the northeastern United States—in general, extremely cold! When these low temperatures combine with the strong winds of Ithaca, it's harder to keep warm. For example, if the temperature is 20°F (-7°C) but the wind is blowing at a speed of 20 mph (32 kph), then the wind-chill temperature is -10°F (-23°C). There are usually a few days each year when brisk winds combine with very low temperatures to produce potentially dangerous conditions. Ithaca can get as much as 125 inches (316 cm) of snow in a winter.

  • Make a habit of looking at a daily weather forecast so that you dress appropriately.
  • On days that are bitterly cold, limit the length of time you are exposed to the cold. When you are out in very cold temperatures, BE AWARE OF THE POTENTIAL FOR FROSTBITE, which is an injury to the body caused by freezing. Most often, frostbite affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. It can leave permanent damage.

How to Keep Warm

  • Layering is warmth: Wear many layers of loose clothing, as this ensures that there are pockets of air between the clothing layers that insulate your body from the cold. For the upper body, a long-sleeved shirt worn over an undershirt and topped with a sweater and coat is best. For the lower body, a pair of long underwear underneath a pair of pants will keep you warm. Underwear made from silk is very comfortable, and technical fibers are good for outdoor sports, although both tend to be expensive. Pants need to be loose-fitting—remember that the idea is to keep warm air close to your body. Tight-fitting pants and jeans will not keep you warm.
  • Keep your head covered: Wearing a hat is very important for keeping warm. A wool or fleece hat is a necessity. If you really feel the cold, buy a sheepskin hat—this will give you full protection against the icy winds that blow across campus. Do at least wear a pair of earmuffs to protect your ears.
  • Mind the gaps: Neck and wrist openings are potential sites for heat loss. Wearing a scarf and long gloves or mittens can help you close these gaps.
  • Ventilate to cut down on perspiration: If you run to class or to catch a bus, you're likely to overheat. Try to loosen or open your outerwear before you perspire to stay dry and warm.
  • Make use of your body heat: Wear mittens instead of gloves. Since mittens expose a smaller surface area to the cold, your fingers will stay warmer.

Dressing in layers that you can take off or put back on as needed will help you cope with the temperature differences as you enter and leave campus buildings. You will be doing a lot of walking while at Cornell. Snow and ice, combined with the hilly terrain, make a good pair of boots essential.

What to Buy

Your comfort depends on the quality of your clothing. All clothing is required to have a label that describes fiber content and care, so you can find out exactly what you are buying.

Down jackets and full-length down coats are warmest, and since most of them 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 warm even when wet. Leather is effective against the wind, but it is a poor insulator and inadequate for Ithaca’s winters.

You may be tempted to buy cotton sweaters and sweatshirts, since they tend to be cheaper than wool. These have little insulating value and will not keep you warm. It’s worth paying a little more for a wool sweater. Fleece pullovers are also safe choices.

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 with silicon spray. Vinyl boots are waterproof but may 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 treaded soles. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask a friend who has been here for at least one winter season.

Shopping in Ithaca

Clothing in Ithaca can be expensive, but there are some places where you can buy good-quality items on a budget. You may want to try TJ Maxx, or Bon Ton and Target in the Ithaca Mall. Fontana's, Dick's, and EMS are good places to shop for boots.

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. This is not 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 clothes and boots, try Trader-K on the Ithaca Commons or the Salvation Army Store on Elmira Road (Route 13 South).