Wayne County Chairman James Hoffman has declared a state of emergency for Wayne County, closing county offices at 2 p.m.
A no unnecessary travel advisory remains in effect through 10 p.m. tonight, advising motorists to stay off the roads for their own safety.
According to a press release from the sheriff, no unnecessary travel is defined as hazardous driving conditions exist and no unnecessary travel is recommended. This restriction is not mandatory and is left to the traveling public to decide their comfort zone on the roadways, the press release stated. However, if it is essential to travel, do so with caution in considering the changing weather conditions.
George Bastedo, director for Wayne County Emergency Management, said his office acts as a conduit for the National Weather Service. When severe weather is forecasted, he said, his office “digests” the information, and if more Wayne County specific information is needed, they will reach out to weather service. They then coordinate with the sheriff, Wayne County highway and buildings and grounds to decide how to proceed and if an alert is needed.
Schools across Wayne County closed due to the storm that started early this morning with light snow and has gradually worsened, with winds expected to increase later in the day, along with much colder temperatures. The Museum of Wayne County History is one among many agencies, including town offices, across the county that are closing their doors due to the weather. It is advised that before going anywhere, to call the intended destination in advance.
The National Weather Service in Buffalo has issued a blizzard warning for Wayne and surrounding counties, including Livingston, Monroe, Northern Cayuga and Ontario that will remain in effect until 5 a.m. Thursday. The greatest risk for blizzard conditions is from midday through midnight tonight. Motorists who have to travel are advised that snowfall will be heavy and will be combined with blowing snow, causing whiteout conditions with near zero visibility at times.
High winds have picked up, blowing north to south, gusting at 30 plus miles an hour with heavy snowfall expected to last through approximately 9 p.m. tonight. Snowfall is forecasted for 1 inch per hour, with a three to four-hour period seeing 2 inches per hour somewhere in the midst of all of the storm.
Storm totals are expected to reach 14 to 19 inches across the region.
Virts said the sheriff’s office goes on high alert during winter storms, with increased patrols to manage higher call volumes and slower response time due to hazardous traveling conditions.
“Like every other industry things tend to get backed up and slow down,” he said.
The sheriff’s office is constantly monitoring the situation, Virts said, and adding patrols as needed, calling shifts in early or having deputies stay late. With more deputies on patrol, Virts said they can shrink patrol areas so they are covering smaller portions of the county, which helps improve response times. It also helps keep officers safe. Virts said in weather like this, deputies are called upon to use their training and common sense to ensure they stay safe out on the roads. At accident and emergency scenes, deputies will use more flares and emergency lighting to warn other motorists of problems.
When weather conditions become too extreme, it becomes unsafe for deputies to travel as well, Virts said. Deputies will park in a central location in their patrol areas and respond only to emergency calls.
“I have to keep them safe along with the traveling public,” the sheriff said. “If they get stuck and need emergency services, we just added to the problems we are trying to solve. Safety first.”
In extreme weather, like the 2003 ice storm that left thousands without power, Emergency Management activates their Emergency Operations Center as a command center in the public safety building, director Bastedo said. At the command center, representatives from agencies meet to form a “plan of attack” in dealing with whatever situation is before them. Bastedo said they work with 25 agencies, including the sheriff, highway, Red Cross and electricity providers, during monthly drills for Ginna. Depending on the situation, the number of responding agencies to the command center can vary. The Emergency Operations Center has room to accommodate as many as 50 people.
The National Weather Service advises that if you absolutely must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle. For those at home, if you lose power and plan on running a generator, make sure that the generator is outdoors and is properly ventilated. Space heaters should also be properly ventilated and used only if they are operating properly. Also, make sure snow does not block exhausts and fresh air intakes for high efficiency furnaces and water heaters.
“The question I always get is: ‘Do I have to go to work?’ My answer is the same to all: ‘Is your job essential to you? and ‘Use caution in your travels,’” Virts said. “Our weather is dangerous at times, but we live in an area that has four distinct seasons and each season can bring us weather challenges and extreme conditions. Always highly consider the weather advisories and respect the weather. Only travel if absolutely necessary.”
Visit the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook and on Twitter accounts, @SheriffVirts and @WayneCoSheriff. Find Emergency Management on Facebook as well, search Wayne County Emergency Management.