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North country bracing to endure latest lake effect storm

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Up to 2 feet of snow is forecast for Watertown, while parts of Tug Hill could see 6 feet by the time this latest lake-effect storm winds down Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a state of emergency for Jefferson and Lewis counties on Monday night and ordered Interstate 81 closed from Exit 45 at Arsenal Street south to Exit 31 in Brewerton.

State police and the state Department of Transportation issued what DOT Region 7 public information officer Michael R. Flick deemed a “soft closing,” meaning that while the interstate is not barricaded, travel in all directions is prohibited except snowplows and police. It was unknown when the highway would reopen.

A stretch of the Thruway south of Buffalo that leads to the Pennsylvania border also was shut down.

A lake-effect snow warning and wind chill advisory are in effect until 1 p.m. Wednesday. Though much of the snow was expected to fall Monday night and today, the National Weather Service forecast an additional 3 to 5 inches of snow for Wednesday.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory Monday urging no unnecessary travel.

“Right now we’re working on getting the public informed,” said county Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer, who urged residents to visit the department’s Facebook page — http://wdt.me/R5u6Fy — for updates on the weather and road closures.

Mr. Plummer said the department was “monitoring the situation” Monday night, as much of the total accumulation was projected to fall Monday night into this afternoon. Along with the snow, winds gusting up to 40 mph and temperatures falling into the single digits are expected today, causing dangerous whiteout conditions throughout the area and wind chills as low as minus 25 degrees.

Well before it hit, local authorities and maintenance workers were bracing for the storm.

According to a statement from Gov. Cuomo, all DOT maintenance headquarters were to be fully staffed around the clock for the duration of the storm.

“As this new winter storm develops, bringing heavy snow and high winds, I strongly urge all citizens in these regions to exercise caution, avoid travel and stay indoors,” Gov. Cuomo said. The state’s Emergency Operations Center also was activated.

Eugene P. Hayes, Watertown superintendent of public works, said city crews started efforts early Monday. During the night, he had 20 DPW workers using six plows, four sanders and several smaller vehicles with plows.

With up to 2 feet of snow projected, Mr. Hayes said, the focus would be on main roads. Side streets would be cleared later, he said.

“All we are going to do is plow,” he said, adding that recent city efforts to clean away trees and broken limbs from the Dec. 21 ice storm will have to wait.

On Monday night, City Council members Roxanne M. Burns and Joseph M. Butler Jr. credited the Department of Public Works for the work it did since the ice storm.

“Remember that on Tuesday morning,” Mr. Hayes joked, adding that it was going to be a difficult night for DPW crews.

States of emergency also were declared in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Oneida, Orleans, Oswego, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

In Illinois, state emergency management officials said “the worst possible combination of circumstances” caused six semis and about 375 vehicles to get stuck along a snowy stretch of interstate in southern Illinois.

Jonathon E. Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said a few semis jackknifed near the intersections of interstates 57 and 70 in Effingham on Sunday night, setting off a chain reaction.

Snowdrifts as high as 8 feet piled up against the semis, preventing cars from getting through. Those cars then became covered by snowdrifts.

It took more than 100 emergency personnel about six hours to clear the area. No one was injured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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