Local weather conditions are proving to be treacherous.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across New York on Thursday afternoon, as winter weather brought heavy snow, sub-zero temperatures and high winds to much of the state. The governor urged residents to avoid travel until the storm passes.
Among the affected areas, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties were placed under a winter storm warning until this morning at 10 a.m. Snowfall between 4 to 8 inches and wind chills as low as 15 degrees below zero are expected.
A driver enters his snow-covered vehicle Thursday in downtown Jamestown.
P-J photo by A.J. Rao
Shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service released an alert detailing blowing snow and very cold wind chills in effect for much of the night in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.
In Jamestown, cold temperatures and icy roads led to extremely precarious conditions for drivers.
"I think it's worse than what we've seen in the past few years," said Jeffrey Lehman, director of the Jamestown Department of Public Works. "I don't think this is out of the norm for Western New York, the Jamestown area and Chautauqua County ... but we just haven't seen it like this in a while."
Lehman, who indicated that his snow plows have been working around the clock since New Year's Eve, said the low temperatures were mostly to blame for the slippery conditions.
"The temperature is causing issues with the salt ... it's becoming really greasy and slick," Lehman said.
In a public safety advisory issued Thursday afternoon, the Jamestown Police Department and Department of Public Works insisted that motorists not only use extreme caution while driving, but remain aware of winter alternate parking and downtown parking restrictions.
These regulations, unless otherwise noted with signage, require that vehicles must be parked on the odd side of streets on odd numbered days of the month and vice versa, with 10 a.m. being the daily changeover time.
Parking on downtown streets is strictly prohibited between the hours of 2-7 a.m., unless otherwise noted, to allow for effective snow removal from public parking areas, according to the advisory.
"Our biggest obstacle is getting people to park their cars (in the proper place) in a timely fashion," said Lehman, who indicated that a few cars on the wrong side of the road can potentially effect an entire roadway from being properly plowed.
Parking regulations, according to police, will be strictly enforced.
"We're doing what we do ... we're out there plowing and salting," Lehman said. "The good news is that the snow is pretty light and fluffy, and so it shovels and plows easily."
The National Weather Service has also issued a wind chill advisory in effect until noon today for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. Warren County was placed under a wind chill advisory and a winter storm warning effective today until 7 a.m.
According to an American Red Cross press release, area residents can take preventive steps to keep their homes and families safe in the cold conditions. The Red Cross urges residents to watch for symptoms of frostbite, including numbness, flushed grey, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration and numbness or waxy feeling skin. Also, residents can run water - even at a trickle - to help prevent pipes from freezing.
If travel is necessary, drivers should keep a disaster supplies kit in the vehicle, which should include a shovel, blanket, flashlight, water, snacks, a first-aid kit and extra batteries, according to the Red Cross.
When using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away, including paper, clothing, bedding, curtains and rugs.
National Fuel also reminds customers to stay safe in the cold weather. According to a recent press release, National Fuel said that although temperatures have been colder than usual, the company is prepared to deliver the gas customers need to stay warm. Anyone knowing of a resident or family living without heat should urge them to contact National Fuel immediately to discuss restoring the service or call National Fuel with their name and address. The company will review the situation and provide options for getting their service back on.
To contact National Fuel, call 1-800-365-3834. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As of Thursday, customers who received a regular HEAP benefit may call the local Department of Social Services office to apply for a $400 emergency HEAP benefit, according to the press release. You must have a shut-off notice to apply for the emergency HEAP benefit, and callers must have their case number, social security number, utility account numbers, household income and bank account balance information available. Call the HEAP hotline at 1-800-342-3009.
Those experiencing an emergency due to the extreme cold weather, are asked to call the National Fuel emergency number at 1-800-444-3130.
On Thursday, Lake Effect Trailbreakers, Ellery Sno-Cruisers and Cherry Creek Sno-Goers reported that their snowmobile trails are open but feature limited conditions with many hazardous areas and limited grooming. Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club did not provide an update to the county Trails Hotline (800-242-4569) as of Thursday, but a county representative said the club was hoping that colder temperatures and heavy snowfall would assist in getting the trails open.
Several school districts canceled after-school activities Thursday. Brocton, Forestville, Randolph, Salamanca, Silver Creek and Westfield schools went as far Thursday night as closing school today.