A major snowstorm barreled up the East Coast toward Long Island Saturday morning, as residents scrambled to prepare for as much as 15 inches of snow.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Long Island, beginning at noon and remaining in effect through 11 a.m. Sunday.

Forecasters expect the snow to start this afternoon, and warned of wind gusts of up to 50 mph. The combination of snow and high winds may lead to whiteout conditions and is expected to make travel extremely dangerous.

The Weather Service predicts snowfall accumulations of 10 to 15 inches, with higher amounts possible due to blowing and drifting snow.

The weather agency is predicting the heaviest snow for northeast Suffolk County. Also, the South Shore could be hit heavily, according to National Weather Service maps.

Western Nassau County and the Nassau-Suffolk border is expected to get less snow.

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Long Islanders began preparing for the storm Friday. At Agnew & Taylor Hardware in Ronkonkoma, workers were moving 50-pound bags of an ice-melt product up from basement storage Friday morning. And snow shovels and sleds were being put on display.

Hardware stores, home centers and supermarkets were gearing up, expecting shoppers to stock up on necessities.

"You get the people who want to get a jump on it, so they'll be coming in today and tonight," Agnew & Taylor co-owner Sandy Weber said. "But then the weatherman isn't always right, so some people wait until the snow's on the ground before coming in."

Brian Ciemnecki, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, said the agency will be "analyzing data constantly," so predictions could change.

"Right now, it is looking more likely that we are going to see significant snowfall on Long Island," Ciemnecki said Friday.

Blizzard of 2009

The last time a blizzard hit the area was the weekend of Feb. 11 and 12, 2006, when 23.6 inches of snow fell in

Great Neck

, 20 inches in

Islip

, 13.1 in

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Oceanside

, and a 26.9 snowfall was recorded in

Central Park

.

If this blizzard hits, the Long Island Contractors' Association is ready to provide heavy equipment - front-loaders and snowplows, said its executive director, Marc Herbst.

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If the snowfall is too much for any municipality, the association is giving the Nassau and Suffolk offices of emergency preparedness a list of equipment that would be available, Herbst said.

The Long Island Power Authority said it also is monitoring the weather and is prepared to respond with extra repair crews, tree trimming crews and call center personnel working extended shifts.

"While snow does not directly impact our system, conditions may cause motor vehicle accidents involving utility poles or trees that may bring down power lines and cause outages," spokesman Mark Gross said in an email.

Bob Hempson, an executive with Stop & Shop Supermarkets, said that pre-storm sales indicate many shoppers want more than the staples of milk, water, bread and cheese.

Some shoppers, he said, like to do some early holiday baking or prepare dishes for holiday meals.

"Today's families deal with the snow by turning it into a time for family fun," Hempson said. "They look forward to pitching in and making big family breakfasts."

Marlene DiChristina of Hauppauge just wanted to get her shopping done Friday morning.

DiChristina rolled a packed shopping cart out of the Shop Rite on Route 347 in Hauppauge and looked relieved to have wrapped up her weekend purchases ahead of the expected blizzard.

"This does have to do with the storm, " she said of her pre-storm grocery shopping. "This way, I have it all out of the way. I can stay home and stay warm."

The pending weather already has prompted a change of plans in Nassau, which has canceled a swine flu vaccination clinic scheduled for Sunday at Clinton Martin Park in New Hyde Park.

With Zachary R. Dowdy and Deborah S. Morris

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