CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has declared a state of emergency as the great Blizzard of 2011 clobbers the area.

Essential government functions for the county will continue, but most employees under the direction of the board president have been directed to stay home.

The Highway Department, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the Department of Facilities Management will remain in operation Wednesday, but most other county departments will not. All non-essential offices will be closed, and will reopen Thursday.

Preckwinkle told CBS 2 she realized the sheer severity of the blizzard when she went outside to walk her dog. There was no traffic on the street, and the snow reached her knees.

“It was quite clear to me that it was going to be very, very difficult for anyone to get around today,” Preckwinkle said, adding that drivers who did attempt to go to work ran the risk of getting stalled and impeding salt trucks and emergency vehicle drivers.

Preckwinkle encourages everyone to stay home if possible.

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