It wasnt quite a blizzard, but it sure came close.
Virtually all activity in Jefferson and Lewis counties came to a standstill Tuesday as the lake-effect storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in Watertown as of Tuesday evening and carried winds nearing 30 mph, closing schools, businesses and roads. Whiteout conditions on the highways even forced snowplows to a halt in many communities, and dozens of stranded motorists, along with employees who couldnt make it home from work, filled local hotel rooms.
The shutdown of most business could extend as late as Thursday as the storm lingers. The National Weather Service predicted up to an additional foot of snow could fall in Watertown by Thursday morning, while more than 4 feet of additional snow could hit parts of the Tug Hill Plateau. In an effort to reduce fatigue, road crews were brought in from Syracuse and Utica to lend a hand.
We still have some crews out, state Department of Transportation Region 7 public information officer Michael R. Flick said Tuesday evening. Were going to keep pressing on through the night.
The Jefferson County Highway Department had to delay snowplowing about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday for intermittent periods, as bursts of wind and snow made the job impossible, according to Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer.
Its difficult for everyone out there, County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr. said.
In the village of Sackets Harbor, plows were nowhere to be seen, as Mayor Vincent J. Battista III said such efforts would be futile against the strong storm. He said the plows would be sent out when the weather improves.
Its brutal, he said, relating how he talked to a woman who said it took her an hour to drive the 8 miles from Sackets Harbor to Watertown.
More than 21 inches of snow fell in Watertown by 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. More than 3 feet of snow had fallen at the Flat Rock Inn, Lowville, at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and owner Gordon J. Yancey said that total has continued to grow.
Theres 42, 48 inches out there now, Mr. Yancey said about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Maybe more.
The storm ground most activity to a halt Tuesday as travel became difficult, if not impossible.
Flights both inbound and outbound at Watertown International Airport have been delayed until this evening, at the earliest. Airport Manager Grant W. Sussey said American Eagle canceled three Tuesday evening flights, as well as its 7:20 a.m. departure today. No decision on the status of the 5 p.m. inbound flight or 5:35 p.m. outbound flight had been made as of Tuesday night.
State, county and local officials implored residents to stay off the roads, and Interstate 81 was barricaded north of Mexico in Oswego County.
Theres been numerous accidents out there today, Mr. Plummer said Tuesday. And numerous is a large number.
Local towing companies reported high numbers of stranded vehicles. Millers Garage, 801 Huntington St., received 40 to 50 calls between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., the time at which the garage said it was too risky to continue sending out trucks. Harts Towing & Repair, 27080 Route 37, was still actively responding to calls as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, and one employee said she couldnt even begin to count the number of calls the shop received.
With roads impassable, many people had no choice but to spend Tuesday night at a hotel. At the Hampton Inn, 155 Commerce Park Drive, only 20 of 120 rooms remained vacant as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, many taken by walk-ins and stay-overs from Monday night.
The Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St., booked its last room at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday. An employee said many stranded tractor-trailer drivers were being directed to the hotel by Jefferson County sheriffs deputies and estimated that 95 percent of the occupants Tuesday night were stranded motorists.
Those seeking a temporary break from the storm were encouraged to visit one of the five warming shelters in Jefferson County being operated at the fire stations in Adams, West Carthage, Carthage, town of Watertown and Natural Bridge. According to Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management, more than 100 people were at the Adams Fire Hall as of 7:35 p.m. Tuesday.
Though the warming shelters are in operation, Mr. Plummer said, the need for public assistance has not been particularly strong, as he said there have been no widespread power outages resulting from the storm. As of 9:30 p.m., 30 customers were without power in Jefferson County and no outages were reported in Lewis or St. Lawrence counties, according to National Grid.
For the latest news on road closures and weather alerts, Mr. Plummer urged residents visit the departments Facebook page.
Right now, Mr. Plummer said, the best thing people can do is stay indoors. He said if the decision were up to him, all of the roads in Jefferson County would have been closed.
Motorists on the road have exclusively been the problem so far, Mr. Plummer said.
A Times journalist counted more than two dozen vehicles off the road on Route 180 in Dexter alone.
Trooper Delgado said he cant even count how many vehicles went off the road.
Both Jefferson Community College and Fort Drum announced Tuesday night that they would operate on two-hour delays this morning.