Lake-effect snow buried Pennsylvania's fourth largest city under more than 1.2m of snow over Christmas, smashing both local and state snowfall records while hampering holiday travel around the US Great Lakes.

With snow falling at a rate of up to 7.6cm per hour, the National Weather Service reported Erie, Pennsylvania, picked up 1.3m in a 30-hour period.

Erie officials have declared a state of emergency and are pleading with motorists to stay off city streets and nearby highways, including Interstates 90 and 79.

According to the National Weather Service, Erie received nearly a metre on Christmas Day, easily topping their previous 24-hour snowfall record.

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After another 48cm piled up, the National Weather Service said Erie had broken Pennsylvania's previous all-time two-day state snowfall record, set in 1958 when Morgantown received 1.1m.

An additional 30cm to 60cm of snow could fall across the Erie throughout tomorrow.

So far, Erie has received 2.3m of snow in December, making it snowiest month in the city's history. The city averages about 2.5m of snow in an entire season.

Located along Lake Erie nearly midway between Buffalo and Cleveland - which the storm has largely spared, so far - Erie's 99,000 residents are used to heavy snow and brutal winds. In late autumn and early winter, cold air pours over the relatively warm lake waters, picking up moisture and depositing it downwind as snow.

But the heaviest snow usually falls away from the immediate lakeshore, where higher elevation helps to squeeze out the most moisture. It's also relatively rare for the most intense snow bands to remain parked over one area for an extended period.

This time, the snow band stalled along the shoreline, clogging streets in Erie with mounds of snow. At times on Christmas, parts of Erie were receiving 2.5cm of snow every 15 minutes, according to accounts on social media.

In an interview, Erie Mayor Joseph Sinnott said the snow is so deep cars have been "bottoming out" in it.


"The last two decades we haven't had as much snow as we used to have in the '70s," said Sinnott. "Although we have had snow, not like this, so people are not used to it. . . . We managed to keep the main streets as clear as possible, but the side streets are very deep, and even the SUV's are having trouble."

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Despite whiteout conditions at times, travel around Erie was complicated by residents who tried to press ahead with their Christmas plans.

Jane Dorler, 41, said she and her husband relied on their Toyota Tundra truck to make it to her parents' house for Christmas dinner.

"We didn't have to, but my husband wanted to, and he thought it was an adventure," Dorler said. "We had to go [16km] across town, and I remember when I got out onto the road, I was like, 'they haven't even [ploughed] this. And I said to him, 'this is probably the worst I have ever seen'."

Though they passed several cars that stuck in the snow, the couple made it to her parents' home safely.

At times yesterday, travel lanes on Interstate 90 were blocked by stuck vehicles or jack-knifed tractor trailers. But the highway remains open, although Pennsylvania State Police are urging motorists to postpone travel if possible.