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Extreme weather conditions cause state of emergency

Catherine Loper/WRVO
Adams, NY

Upstate New York is in the midst of a cold front that is bringing dangerous weather conditions and causing large parts of northern New York to essentially shut down. Businesses, offices, health clinics, courts and other facilities either closed for the day or closed midday due to treacherous weather conditions.

Bitterly cold weather, high winds and snowfall is blanketing central and northern New York, particularly north of Syracuse. Parts of the Tug Hill area could get up to six feet of snow before a lake effect snow warning is lifted sometime on Wednesday. A wind chill warning is in effect in the Syracuse-area until Tuesday at 7 p.m. Wind gusts may reach upwards of 45 miles per hour today there, with wind chill temperatures falling to nearly 30 below.

The extreme weather conditions forced the region's schools to close Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a state of emergency for 14 counties, including Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego Counties.

Cuomo shut down a 50-mile stretch of I-81 from Brewerton to Watertown Monday night. Tuesday morning the New York State Department of Transportation announced that I-81 would be shut down from the Jefferson County line to the Canadian border. There hasn't been any word yet on when the road will reopen.

A 75-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway was also closed, from Buffalo to the Pennsylvania border. He released a statement Tuesday saying "all closures will remain in place until further notice and motorists are encouraged to refrain from traveling during this winter weather event."

Dr. Michael Kamali, chair of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says people need to dress warmly and anyone traveling over the next few days should be ready in case problems arise.

“You really do have to be prepared, have to have some blankets in your car, have to make sure your cell phone is charged up, and be prepared for the unexpected,” Kamali said.

People planning to be outside for any period of time should also take proper precautions and dress for the conditions.

“Dress warmly, dress in layers," Kamali said. "Keep all your skin covered, make sure you wear good boots, socks, gloves, mittens, a hat, and a scarf to cover your face as well. Be sure to pay attention to your elderly neighbors and small children who might be playing outside in this weather.”

Frostbite is always a danger with low temperatures and high winds.

“If you have exposed skin and the temperature is cold enough, and the wind is high enough, it can be minutes for frostbite to set in," Kamali said. "I don’t know that it will be quite that cold but it can take on the order of 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, in that time you should seek shelter.”

He says it’s important to keep an eye on elderly neighbors and children as the cold weather sets in.

And for those heating their homes with wood fires, kerosene heaters or other heating methods, the New York State Department of Health is encouraging them to do it safely.

Temperatures are expected to rise near 20 on Wednesday, although wind chills will still cause temperatures to drop below zero, and eventually climb into the 40s by Saturday.