Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero declared a snow emergency Sunday night after a day of steady snowfall that's giving plow crews all it can handle.
"A snow emergency is by ordinance," Bernero said Sunday night. "it gives us certain powers to clear streets and put equipment and crew where we need them."
Bernero is asking all residents to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. Cars must be moved from city streets or they will be towed, he said.
"If you have a doctor's appointment and it's crucial, then that's essential [to drive]," he said. "If you've gotta go to the hospital, that's essential. If you're out of food and you've gotta go shopping, that's essential. But it really is a warning to people: it's what's available to me under ordinance to say non-essential travel is prohibited and we ask people to exercise their best judgement."
The city's streets are "a mess," Bernero said, despite around-the-clock efforts to clear them. But he says the city isn't yet "overwhelmed" and he has no plans to declare a state of emergency.
Lansing Senior Maintenance Adviser Mike Sleep says it could take days to get the streets free of snow.
"The challenge with the cold weather is again that the salt's not working," he said. "If this was a typical winter day after a storm we'd salt it and the roads would be dry relatively quick. This is not the case with this storm."
The city will use sand at major intersections to give cars some traction, Sleep said. Road salt doesn't begin to work until temperatures reach around 20 degrees.
In the meantime, Sleep says a full crew will work 16-hour shifts until streets are cleared -- a taxing effort after weeks of snowy and icy weather.
"It gets discouraging having to go over and over and over and it seems like we can't get anything," he said. "But again our main goal is to keep the main roads open."
The Ingham County Sheriff's Department says it's a good thing the storm came on a Sunday, when fewer people were on the roads. Sgt. Eric Jungel urged residents to stay indoors.
"It's not a routine storm," he said. "The combination of the snow and the cold temperatures mean that people have to be prepared. If you have to venture out in this weather, be prepared for the worst."
Jungel says if you have to travel, leave yourself plenty of extra time to get where you're going. It can also help to keep an emergency kit in your car with blankets and a charged cell phone. It also helps to have at least half a tank of gas at all times.
"A little preparation goes a long way," he said. "The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you'll be."
Lansing residents said Sunday they were more concerned about the frigid temperatures forecast to hit the area Monday and Tuesday than the snow piling up on their sidewalks.
"The snow we can shovel away," said Susanne Moss, whose entire family helped clear her south Lansing driveway and sidewalk. "We can drive in snow, we can be careful but in the cold temperatures you bundle up and still it goes right through you."
Joe Nathan Woods Jr. was especially nervous about the weather after an ice storm that knocked out some peoples' power for close to two weeks.
"We buy water, flashlights, chips, crackers, just things that can last us a couple days in case the power goes out," he said.
But Bernero said he doesn't expect outages of that magnitude from this storm.
"We pray that that's not the case," he said. "We think that we've all learned from that storm. I think the Board of Water and Light learned a lot from that storm. So in some respects we're probably better prepared, better equipped to handle it. But I can't imagine it would be anything like that."