Essex and Franklin counties have declared states of emergency and ask people to stay off the roads as a winter storm continues to blast through the region.
Essex County's state of emergency, signed by Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Preston, took effect at noon. It allows all county departments and agencies to take whatever steps are necessary to "protect life, property and public infrastructure, or to provide emergency assistance. It also allows the county superintendent of public works, purchasing agent and emergency services director to enter into emergency contracts for any necessary services.
In a subsequent press release, the county Office of Emergency Services urged the general public to "remain off roadways until further notice with exception of essential personnel."
Snow falls near the Lake Placid News office on Mill Hill in Lake Placid Tuesday afternoon.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)
Franklin County Manager Donna Kissane declared a county-wide state of emergency around 3 p.m. She asked people to limit all non-essential travel "to allow emergency vehicles easy access and highway departments the ability to keep roads clear."
"The most important thing is public safety," said county Board of Legislators Chairwoman Barbara Rice of Saranac Lake. "We're trying to clear the roads of traffic so our crews can get out there and plow the roads. The less people driving around, the better."
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced a tractor-trailer ban on the Adirondack Northway, Interstate 87, between Albany and the Canadian border, and a full travel ban on I-84 from the Pennsylvania border to the Connecticut border. Both went into effect at 1 p.m.
State police and National Weather Service officials also advised motorists in parts of upstate New York to avoid unnecessary travel during today's storm that's expected to dump as much as 2 feet of snow in some areas of the state and 12 to 20 inches in the Adirondacks.
Gov. Cuomo declared a statewide state of emergency Monday evening, starting at midnight, and directed non-essential state employees to stay home from work today - except in the state's six northern-most counties: Franklin, Essex, Clinton, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson.
In the Tri-Lakes region of the Adirondack Park, the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning until 8 p.m. Wednesday, with heavy snow anticipated for the Champlain Valley of Vermont and northeastern New York, including the Adirondack Mountains and foothills.
In addition, a blizzard warning has been issued for Essex County, including Lake Placid, and northern Franklin County until 11 a.m. Wednesday, with accumulations of snow from 12 to 20 inches. The blizzard warning also includes Clinton, Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, the Capital District around Albany and all of the Champlain Valley in New York and Vermont.
The snow is expected to become heavy at times during the afternoon and through the night. Steady snow is expected to continue through Wednesday evening. With sustained winds of 10 to 20 mph and gusts up to 35 mph, motorists can expect hazardous winter driving conditions due to snow-covered roads, low visibility and blowing and drifting snow, creating near-whiteout conditions at times. Visibility will be down to one quarter mile or less at times. High temperatures will be in the lower 20s with lows 8 to 13 above.
The Adirondack Health/Lake Placid Site Emergency Room on Church Street will remain open throughout tonight, according to emergency room staff. The Lake Placid emergency room is normally open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. In the event of an emergency, village of Lake Placid officials ask people to dial 911, or call the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service at 518-523-9511 or the Lake Placid Fire Department/Police Department at 518-523-3306.
With most people hunkering down at home, the streets of the Tri-Lakes villages were generally quiet for a Tuesday evening, except for snowplows. Local and state police reported no major car crashes or collisions.
Many businesses, banks, post offices and libraries closed early.
"When the governor issues a state of emergency with no unnecessary travel, we take it seriously!" read a post on the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library's Facebook page. The library closed at noon today.
Some evening events were canceled, including a Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce after-hours social at St. Bernard's School. A spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the SaraPlacid Pee Wee hockey team, which is going to this weekend's state tournament in Buffalo, was still going on as planned at Nonna Fina restaurant in Saranac Lake, although organizers told people to use their own discretion in attending, given the weather.
Those who did venture out were met with strong winds and blowing snow.
"I just took my dog out for a walk on Park Avenue," Rice said around 4:30 p.m. "It's crazy out. Even walking, the visibility is terrible."
Across the country, nearly 6,000 flights scheduled for today have been canceled. That includes Cape Air's three daily flights out of the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.
"Since we didn't have any flights we just closed down so we could focus on plowing and keeping up with it," said airport Manager Corey Hurwitch. "Right now we've got two guys out there just going back and forth on the runways, taxiways and apron so when it does slow down we can reopen quickly."
Hurwitch said he doesn't mind the snow.
"If it's all snow like this, it's easy for us to deal with," he said. "It's when we get the ice or the temperatures are fluctuating like they were a few weeks ago that we really struggle. We're actually looking forward to a storm where all we have to do is plowing."
Many local schools were closed all day or had early dismissal due to today's snowstorm.
The AuSable Valley Central School District and all campuses of North Country Community College are closed today. Paul Smith's College is on mid-semester recess this week.
Saranac Lake middle and high schools dismissed students at 10:30 a.m., and the district's elementary schools dismissed at 11:30. Tupper Lake Middle-High School's early dismissal was at 10:30 a.m. and L.P. Quinn Elementary School sent students home at 11 a.m. Lake Placid Middle/High School closed at 10:30 a.m., and the elementary school closed at 11:15 a.m. The St. Agnes Catholic elementary school in Lake Placid closed at 11:15 a.m. Keene Central School dismissed at noon.
"Today's weather is a little unusual in that the morning is proving to be fairly typical for this time of year -- and manageable for our buses -- but it is the front end of a storm that forecasters are predicting will become heavy this afternoon and evening, which has us concerned," LPCSD Superintendent Roger Catania wrote this morning in an email. "I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause any of our families, but we think it's important that school remain open when it is safe to do so, even if that is only for a partial day."
"We felt we needed to be on the safe side," Saranac Lake school Superintendent Diane Fox said.
A half-day doesn't count in the district's snow day total. Saranac Lake school officials have so far used two of their three potential snow days this year. Asked if Wednesday could be a full day off, Fox said it depends on how things look tonight.
"We'll know by this evening," she said. "Is (the storm) actually happening as projected or not? If it tracks as they say it's going to track, there's a good chance we'll be calling it this evening. If it's not tracking that fast, we might wait until the morning."
Village of Saranac Lake Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Dora said his crews weren't doing anything "dramatic" in preparation for the storm.
"We've kind of split the crews up a little more even to get a few more bodies on the other crew, and we've kind of stretched our hours out to cover everything for 24 hours," he said. "All we can do is try to keep up with it, keep the roads passable and ask people to be patient and let us do our job."
On I-84, which runs through Newburgh, only emergency personnel, first responders, and other critical health care personnel are permitted on the roadway. A temporary tractor-trailer ban still remains in effect on I-81, I-84, I-86/Route 17, I-88 and on all of the New York State Thruway. The full travel ban for all of Broome County announced earlier today remains in effect.
At the governor's direction, state agencies have already pre-positioned personnel, assets and stockpile resources - including sandbags, generators and pumps - to areas where the storm will be at its strongest.
With the storm approaching, the governor urged commuters to drive with caution and to avoid unnecessary travel. Motorists, especially tractor-trailers, should be prepared for road closures across the state.
Motorists are reminded to check 511NY by calling 511 or visiting www.511ny.org before traveling. The free service allows users to check road conditions and transit information. Mobile users can download the free 511NY mobile app from the iTunes or Google Play stores. The app features Drive mode, which provides audible alerts along a chosen route while a user is driving, warning them about incidents and construction. Users can set a destination prior to departing and receive information on up to three routes.