By Scott Malone and Victoria Cavaliere
BOSTON/NEW YORK, Feb 5 (Reuters) - An intense winter storm hit the northeastern United States during the morning commute on Wednesday, threatening to drop up to a foot of snow in parts of central New England and straining states' ability to keep roads clear.
Following a series of snowfall across the region, suppliers reported shortages of the salt that governments and homeowners rely on to keep roads and sidewalks free of ice.
In Connecticut, where more than 8 inches (20 cm) of snow fell in areas, Governor Dannel Malloy ordered non-essential state workers to stay home, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency.
In the Boston area, snow was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches (2-5 cm) per hour, making roads treacherous and closing schools.
"The worst will be along the higher terrain, around central New England," said Benjamin Sipprell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Southern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire around the border with Massachusetts could see up to around a foot (30 cm) of snow."
New Jersey officials said the repeated storms had taken a heavy toll on their supplies of salt, needed to keep roads clear of ice.
"We've had so many storms, one after another, that it definitely has put a very significant demand on salt for not only the state DOT here in New Jersey but counties and municipalities as well," said Joe Dee, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
"Our supplies are dwindling. We have plenty for this storm. We're looking at some weekend storms and we have enough for that but we're going to start to get low. We need some good weather and a chance to replenish our supplies," he added.
As of Jan. 26 New Jersey had spent $60 million on snow removal, putting it in place to break the record of $62.5 million spent last year, Dee said.
Commercial suppliers of snow and ice melt had run out of rock salt.
"We're just continuing to get crushed by these storms. With major rock salt shortages, it's starting to get scary out there," said Anthony Scorzetti, a hardware and paint manager for Braen Supply in Wanaque, New Jersey. "I have people calling from all parts of the East Coast looking for it, and we just have nothing."
Connecticut's Malloy urged people to stay off icy roads.
"With heavy snow falling across the state and a mix of sleet and freezing rain on the way, I am asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel," Malloy said. "If you can stay home or work from home, please do."
In New York City, schools were open, despite the weather. In Brooklyn, parents were walking their kids to class as crews used electric snowblowers to keep sidewalks around the building clear.
Renita Stefanec dropped off her 7-year-old for class with her 5-year-old in tow.
"It's sloppy, it's messy but if you live close it's doable," she said of the trek. "If it's too bad out, they just don't come. They keep the kids home. But if you're close, it's doable."
Even with all the bad weather this winter, schools have stayed open, something Stefanec thinks is a good idea.
"I prefer them to come to school because if they don't they take it away from vacation days."
Areas from the lower Great Lakes eastward through central New England were expected to see snowfall before the system moves out to sea by Wednesday evening, according to the National Weather Service. (Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)