Blizzard's 26 inches of snow sets LI record

Buddy, an Old English sheepdog, prances through the Buddy, an Old English sheepdog, prances through the snow in his backyard in East Farmingdale. (Dec. 20, 2009) Photo Credit: David Pokress

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The fact that the blizzard of 2009 broke the modern record for snowfall on Long Island - 26-plus inches - tells only part of the story.

The rest reads something like this:

Snow drifted across roads that, after the plows drove through, wound up as slick as if hit by an ice storm. The result: dozens of fender benders.

>> PHOTOS: Record-breaking snow pounds LI

The region's airports were immobilized and 184 Long Island Rail Road trains were delayed or canceled - including one with 150 passengers that wound up stuck near Wyandanch for three hours early Sunday after its temperamental diesel locomotive sucked up too much moisture.

Power outages were not widespread - but 175 homes in Woodmere did lose theirs, the Long Island Power Authority reported. By early afternoon, as the snowfall was winding down, outages numbered fewer than 50 islandwide. At its worst - at 1 a.m. - outages numbered 289.

The only fatality that appeared to be weather related was reported in Coram, where Suffolk police responded to a report at 8 a.m. and found a man dead in a pickup truck equipped with a plow. It did not appear as if the truck, on Samantha Drive, had been in an accident and the engine was running. The cause of death had not been determined by Sunday night. The man's name was not made public because his family had not yet been notified.

By the time the snow and the gale-strength winds headed northeast toward Cape Cod and Nantucket at midafternoon, more than 26 inches was measured in Upton by the National Weather Service. That represents the highest total snowfall in a single storm since 1949, when Brookhaven National Laboratory began keeping records. The previous record was 23 inches in 1978.

Locally, Suffolk County bore the brunt of this storm; Nassau County and New York City got off with only about a foot of snowfall.

"Long Island was definitely one of the hardest-hit places in the country," said weather service meteorologist Jim Connolly. Before battering the Island, the storm shut down Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, and smothered New Jersey.

The Long Island Rail Road said it had actually performed well - despite the stranded train.

"Other than that one incident . . . basically our train service did well," said LIRR president Helena Williams. "We were able to keep trains running. It was just a terrific effort by employees."

More than 500 trains ran through the snowstorm. And 184 were either delayed or canceled.

Antifreeze-spraying trains operated all night Saturday, but they could not forestall the shutdown of service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport on Saturday night and all day Sunday, service on the Far Rockaway and Long Beach lines through the early-morning hours and systemwide delays of more than an hour on some branches. Some trains skipped stops because speeding through a station helps knock snowdrifts from the tracks, LIRR officials said.

"As the snow began to accumulate, it became more difficult in blizzard conditions to keep trains on schedule," Williams said. "Once you get one train with a delay, you get a ripple effect of other delays."

Flights to some cities originating at Islip MacArthur Airport were canceled Sunday. The airport reopened Sunday morning after closing down overnight, after the last scheduled arrival Saturday night. The storm canceled 1,200 flights in and out of Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark.

Blizzard conditions kept snow plow drivers busy. In Eastport, plow driver Kevin Nolan of Riverhead began clearing snow in the King Kullen shopping center at 11 p.m. Saturday - a largely losing battle. He was still at it at 11 the next morning.

"I couldn't see two feet in front of me," he said of plowing through the night. His headlights made it worse, he said, so he turned them off. "This has got to be the biggest snowfall I've seen in 20 years," said Nolan, who was relieved after his all-nighter by plow driver Jimmy McBride.

By midday Sunday, many residents shifted from snow removal to snow recreation. At Bethpage State Park, hills on two golf courses were opened for sledding at 11 and within an hour several dozen families were enjoying the slopes.

Anthony Esposito of Amityville and his wife brought their sons Vittorio, 8, and Alessio, 6, for sled rides - and were waiting when the park opened. "They had a blast. They don't want to leave," Esposito said at noon, "but we have to go eat. But we're coming back right after lunch."

With AP

>> PHOTOS: Latest on LI | East Coast buried |

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Classic LI snowstorms | Send your photos!
>> LIVE: Latest forecast and radar | Traffic and LIRR snarls
>> ALERTS: School and organization closings | Breaking news
>> DIVERSIONS: Going out? Best sledding spots | Staying in? Top 9 of 2009 lists

You also may be interested in: