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Lake effect snow continues in North Country; many travelers stranded
The lake effect snow warning for northern New York has been extended until Thursday at 1 p.m. as upwards of four feet of snow has fallen in some spots since Monday. A state of emergency remains in effect for 14 counties, including Oswego, Jefferson and Lewis Counties.
Forecasters predicted snow to fall at a rate of two to three inches an hour Wednesday morning in an area in the Tug Hill area.
The New York State Department of Transportation announced that I-81 would begin opening up starting at 1 p.m. Wednesday, but that it would be a rolling opening, as they were still working to clear some exit ramps. Travel conditions had been treacherous, with I-81 closed at various times Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday from portions between Brewerton to the Canadian border. Barricades were put up yesterday to stop people who were ignoring the announced closure from using the highway.
Southern Jefferson County is experiencing some of the worst weather and road conditions. With the interstate closed, travelers took to Rt. 11 and other smaller roads, but many ended up getting stranded in towns and villages south of Watertown and in Lewis County.
The state Department of Transportation said Wednesday morning that travel was very slow on Rt. 11 in Jefferson County, and reports of accidents and cars going off the road. Then, officials with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office reported shortly after 9 a.m. that Rt. 11 was closed in the village of Adams. Smaller roads in the village were impassable as well.
By late morning, some travelers were able to get out on the main roads in Adams after plows came through and snowfall slowed. Heavy snow is again expected in the area later Wednesday afternoon.
Fire departments in Copenhagen, Harrisville, Lowville, Carthage, West Carthage and Adams opened up their fire halls to stranded motorists Tuesday night. Residents in many villages opened up their homes to stuck travelers as well. Most of the hotels in Watertown were reportedly booked with people who could not continue to drive any further.
Jody Pettit, the general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown says just like her guests, her employees are unable to get in and out as well.
"We've got three housekeepers that have made it in today and over 117, 127 rooms to be cleaned. I was hostessing last night and I'll be stripping beds and cleaning today. And a lot of them are a little anxious because they can't get home to their families and have kids of their own that are not in school. There's strain there, but we've got our chin up and put on a smile and just do what we can do to keep going."
Businesses, offices, stores, restaurants and even health clinics closed though out the day Tuesday and announced they would remain closed on Wednesday. Schools from Watertown through southern Jefferson County.
The town of Watertown as well as villages of Harrisville, Carthage, West Carthage and Adams have declared states of emergency, with street side parking bans in some of those villages put in place.
Road crews had a difficult time keeping up with conditions. On Tuesday, the Jefferson County Highway Department reportedly had to halt its snow plows for periods of time because of visibility issues.
Some town and villages also had to halt road clearing operations for periods of time. In an interview with WWNY-TV in Watertown Wednesday morning, Jefferson County Highway Superintendent Jim Lawrence asked for people's patience.
All commercial flights in and out of Watertown International Airport were canceled until 5 p.m. Thursday.
Heavy snow in western New York caused the state thruway to close in both directions yesterday from Rochester all the way to the Pennsylvania border Tuesday. That section of the Thruway was re-opened around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning. Nearly 20 inches of snow were dumped on parts of western New York.