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It's cold: Arctic blast hitting Cayuga County

A winter storm with Arctic air passing through Cayuga County and other parts of central New York Friday through Sunday is marking the coldest this winter, according to the National Weather Service. And the addition of heavy lake effect snow has led to treacherous driving.

Southern Cayuga, Onondaga and Madison counties south of the Thruway corridor were expected to get up to an inch of snow per hour throughout the evening Friday. Onondaga County issued a travel advisory Friday afternoon through 12 a.m. Saturday. The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office issued a travel advisory Thursday night cautioning drivers about hazardous conditions. 

Cayuga County 911 Dispatch said on Friday that motorists were heeding travel warnings, keeping accidents to a minimum. Nearly two dozen schools across the county were closed Friday, in addition to about 10 businesses and organizations. Closures continued to be reported throughout the day.

Besides snowfall, blustery conditions and falling temperatures are keeping the region in a deep freeze.

The lowest wind chills were expected Friday night into Saturday morning, with NWS predicting temperatures 23 degrees below zero in Auburn on Saturday. Wind chill temperatures Friday were already below that prediction, reading 27 below zero as of 4:50 a.m. and -28 in Venice Center as of 5:35 a.m., according to the NWS out of Binghamton.

Without wind chill, Auburn's coldest temperature Friday was -3, with a high of 21. Frigid temperatures increase the risks of hypothermia and frostbite for those venturing outdoors. 

More than 7 inches of snow fell in Auburn Thursday, with another 5 Friday morning. The National Weather Service reported that Sempronius got 3.5 inches. Onondaga County had a wider range of snowfall totals, with Camillus reporting the highest at 14 inches.

Southern Cayuga, Tompkins, Seneca, Madison, Southern Oneida and Cortland counties are under a wind chill warning until 7 a.m. Sunday, and a winter weather advisory until 6 p.m. Saturday. 

Northern Cayuga County has both a lake effect snow warning and a wind chill warning until 7 a.m. Sunday. Wind chills are expected to be between 10- and 30-degrees below zero with snow accumulations of 5 to 9 inches. Northern Cayuga County is expected to get between 18 and 24 inches of snow by 7 a.m. Saturday. Winds could gust as high as 45 mph. Onondaga County is also in a lake effect snow warning until 6 p.m. Saturday and a wind chill warning until 7 a.m. Sunday. 

Gallery: Winter storm batters Cayuga County

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

George Dragone covers up against the bitter cold in Auburn Friday.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Jack McNeil snowplows the sidewalk in front of his home in Skaneateles Jan. 5.

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Safety tips to weather the winter storm

With much of central New York under wind chill warnings and winter weather advisories, experts are reminding residents of some safety tips this weekend. 

According to the National Weather Service, the lowest temperatures will hit Cayuga County Friday night and Saturday morning, with wind chills reaching 23-degrees below zero in Auburn. More snow is also expected as the county remains under a winter weather advisory until 6 p.m. Saturday. 

It's cold: Arctic blast hitting Cayuga County

A winter storm with Arctic air passing through Cayuga County and other parts of central New York Friday through Sunday is marking the coldest this winter, according to the National Weather Service. And the addition of heavy lake effect snow has led to treacherous driving.

Here are some safety tips from NWS, New York State Electric & Gas, American Red Cross, New York State Police and SPCA to weather the storm: 

For the self

  • Avoid going outside during the coldest parts of the day 
  • Wear layers of clothes, a hat and gloves to avoid hypothermia 
  • Use blankets
  • Cover exposed skin to reduce risk of frostbite 
  • Seek shelter from the wind as much as possible while outside 
  • If wet, change into dry clothing immediately
  • Make sure at least one other person knows your whereabouts if you go outside 

For the home

  • Keep flashlights and fresh batteries handy
  • Report power outages to NYSEG  at 1-800-572-1131
  • Never use a natural gas oven for heating 
  • Never use charcoal indoors for cooking or heating 
  • Provide adequate ventilation for alternate-heating source, such as a fireplace, wood stove or kerosene heater
  • Never burn trash or plastic 
  • If using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away 
  • Always supervise alternate-heating sources 
  • Shut doors to unused rooms and close drapes to retain heat 
  • Let water trickle from faucets to avoid frozen or burst pipes 
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around plumbing 
  • Clear snow and ice away from dryer and other appliance vents
  • Shovel and salt your sidewalks and driveway
  • Keep thermostat at the same temperature day and night 
  • Use generators outside 

For the car 

  • Make sure your vehicle has at least a half a tank of gas 
  • Keep an emergency supply of water and non-perishable food in your car
  • Keep extra clothes, blankets, warmers or sleeping bags in your car 
  • Keep a first aid kit in your car 
  • Keep a toolkit in you car, including some basic tools, jumper cables, flashlights and batteries 
  • Keep a spare cell phone charger in your car 
  • Keep a shovel and ice scraper in your car 
  • Keep cat litter or sand in your car for better tire traction 
  • Keep a safe distance between vehicles while driving 
  • Turn on your hazard or four-way lights in white-out conditions 
  • Always clean windows and mirrors of snow and ice before driving 
  • Ensure windshield washer fluid and anti-freeze levels are sufficient 
  • Ensure the spare tire is sufficient and you have a jack and wheel wrench 
  • Use headlights at all times to increase visibility 
  • Do not use cruise control 
  • Be aware of emergency vehicles 
  • If involved in an accident, stay in your vehicle and call 911 

For the pets

  • Make sure pets have plenty of food and water and are not overly exposed to extreme cold 
  • Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as it comes inside
  • Wash and dry your pet's feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals
  • Check for cracks in paw pads and redness between the toes and remove any snow balls between foot pads
  • Massage petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside to protect from salt and chemical agents 
  • Clean up spills from your vehicle as coolant and antifreeze is a lethal poison for pets 
  • Keep pets in a warm place, off the floor and away from all drafts
  • Never leave pets alone in a car during cold weather 
  • Never leave pets outside in extreme cold 
  • Report pets left outdoors to local shelter, police or animal control 

Cuomo wants stiffer penalties for passing stopped NY school buses

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will pursue stricter penalties for New York drivers who pass stopped school buses, according to his 376-page State of the State book released this week.

It is illegal in New York to pass a school bus when it is stopped and its red lights are flashing. The law applies to vehicles approaching the rear and front of the bus. Motorists are required to stop for buses when its red lights are flashing, even when the bus is stopped on a multi-lane highway.

Under current state law, the first conviction for passing a stopped school bus could result in a $250 to $400 fine and up to 30 days in jail. The possible penalties for a second conviction within a three-year period range include a $600 to $750 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

For three or more convictions within a three-year period, the fine would range from $750 to $1,000. Offenders could also spend up to 180 days in jail.

But Cuomo believes the penalties should be tougher, especially after a statewide enforcement last year found many motorists disobeyed the law and passed stopped school buses.

The enforcement campaign, Operation Safe Stop, was held on April 27, 2017. The goal of the initiative was to raise awareness about the law prohibiting drivers from passing a stopped school bus when its red flashing lights are activated.

According to a report released by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, 70 law enforcement agencies across the state participated in Operation Safe Stop. On the day of the campaign, 1,037 tickets were issued for passing stopped school buses. An additional 2,964 tickets were issued for other violations, the report said.

"Extrapolated for 180 days of school, someone passed a stopped school bus 180,000 times a year, endangering the safety of school children," the governor's office wrote in the State of the State book.

The book added that Cuomo will "increase the fine for passing a stopped school bus as a way to increase student safety." But specific details about his proposal weren't disclosed. A spokesperson for the governor said more information about the plan will be outlined in the executive budget, which will be released later this month.

School buses are a primary mode of transportation for many students across the state. Roughly 2.3 million students in New York ride school buses every year, according to the governor's office.

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Police: Death of man found outside Auburn home was accidental

The Auburn Police Department has closed its investigation into the death of a 39-year-old man whose body was found outside an Auburn home last fall. 

Auburn Police Captain James Moore said an autopsy ruled that the death of Joshua Taro was accidental. His death was initially deemed suspicious after a passerby discovered Taro's body on the front lawn of 59 N. Fulton St. in October

At the time, police said Taro — a longtime resident of Auburn — had suffered facial injuries consistent with an assault. Police later learned he had been in a fight outside Jitz's Tavern a few hours before he was found deceased.

A preliminary autopsy from the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's Office found that Taro's death was not a result of his injuries. However, police said at the time that further testing was being conducted to determine the exact cause of death. 

That testing was recently completed, Moore said, and confirmed that Taro's death was "accidental." Moore would not say whether drugs or alcohol were involved.