With the pandemic there have been unforeseen problems everywhere, of course, but beyond the universal kind, Ithaca is a benign locale that does well in evading many earthly sorts.
This month we had torrential rain for a day. It was part of a tropical storm, but Ithaca is northern and inland enough to get only limited fringes of such disturbances, when we get them at all.
There were storm-related tornadoes as near as Pennsylvania. Here we had only minor troubles such as mildly flooded basements and roads.
Car-pooling home from work with me the night of the rains, a colleague who just moved to Ithaca, fairly far up South Hill on Coddington Road, said he was happy to live on high ground where trouble wouldn’t touch him.
What he doesn’t realize (yet) is that the further up you go, the more roadway there is below you to flood and hinder your travel. The hilly hamlet of Newfield knows this. Its main thoroughfare, Route 13, was closed for overflowing creeks and other downhill drenching.
Still, problems in the area were largely navigable or even non-existent.
For many years I’ve lived downtown in Southside, 200 feet from Six Mile Creek, a bucolic feature of the neighborhood that provides natural beauty and sustains charming wildlife while quite thoughtfully never overflowing into nearby streets. Only once in all these years did it even come close.
Recollection says it was during a storm like this latest one, except worse, lasting many more hours.
I worked late nights at the time. Arriving home around midnight I could see the creek was near its brink, but put it out of my mind with the humble but accurate realization that there wasn’t much I could do about it.
A few hours later there was pounding at my door. I live up a flight of stairs and went down to find an emergency worker on the porch.
He said that flooding was a possibility and workers were alerting residents that evacuation might be ordered, in maybe an hour or two.
I rubbed sleep from my eyes, at least figuratively, and said look, my neighbors work days and will be up in an hour or two anyway, but I work nights and this is like 1 a.m. to me, not 6 a.m. I live upstairs and don’t have anything on street level. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to go back to bed and take my chances on not evacuating.
He said that was okay with him, but was that my car parked out front? If water rushed down the street it would soon become my boat. I quickly realized this was true, a boat that was by no means anchored.
Beyond that, he said, maybe plan on going back to bed for a day or two, as your usual activities might be curtailed by lack of utilities, and going anywhere might be difficult unless you are a strong swimmer.
In fact I am, but prefer less turbulent host water, so I took his hint, and stayed up and made coffee and prepared for the vigil.
As it happens, the creek stayed put. (It is a matter more of superstition rather than self-regard or simple nonsense that I consider preparation for the bad a boost for the good.)
In winter, too, Ithaca is blessed by obligingly benevolent geography. We have a reputation for harsh winters simply by being in upstate New York, which millions of downstaters and other outsiders equate with the Yukon. But there’s upstate, and there’s upstate.
Neighboring Syracuse suffers in winter. It is only an hour north of Ithaca, but in a different microclimate, which begins near Tully. When conditions are sharp you can sometimes actually observe the switch traveling on Route 81. Just north of Tully in winter there is a deepening of darkness and cold that is not just metaphysical.
Syracuse gets lake effect snow from the Great Lakes. So do Rochester and Buffalo. Vast precipitation accumulates from vapors rising from relatively warmer surface temperatures above the lakes and falls dramatically when reaching colder temperatures above land. Hello, Rochester and Buffalo. The effect travels with prevailing winds, often getting worse along the way. Hello, Syracuse.
Meanwhile, Ithaca enjoys a kind of reverse Finger Lakes effect. The city is on Cayuga and east of Seneca, deep lakes which are slow to freeze, thus providing rising mild temperatures. The lakes are too narrow to add significant precipitation to passing storms, instead moderating them.
Or let’s say confusing them, as maybe these meteorological postulates do downstaters who think we winter in snowdrifts. If that slows second home hunting by them here, maybe that’s another benign effect.