North Hempstead is turning the heat on this winter's snow and ice.
Town officials plan to unleash a "snow melter" machine the size of a school bus on mounds that are hogging commuter parking spaces and blocking visibility on roads.
North Hempstead paid nearly $60,000 to lease the machine from Port Washington-based Dejana Industries for two months and officials are to start using it this week at a commuter parking lot in Port Washington.
"There's just so much space that we can push the snow around," Highway Superintendent Thomas Tiernan said of traditional snow removal. "It piles up in the corners, it piles up in between cars. We had a lot of snow already -- there's nowhere really to put it."
The new truck can melt 100 tons of snow in an hour, officials said.
Tiernan likened the inside of the machine to a hot tub. Snow is loaded into the back of the truck and melted by the hot water inside. The excess water is released into a storm drain. Any debris in the snow ends up in the bottom of the melter where it can be removed for disposal.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said with the frequency of recent storms, the town should be more concerned about what happens after the snow is plowed. The issue is particularly important with forecasters predicting more snow and cold temperatures this week, adding to the piles of snow and ice still on the ground from the past weeks' storms.
"We need to stay ahead of it," Bosworth said.
John Murray, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, said January's average temperature of 28.7 degrees was 1.9 degrees below normal for the month, recorded at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, where 36 inches of snow has fallen so far this year.
Most other Long Island towns don't use snow-melters.
Oyster Bay has three machines on contract for $3,140 an hour for each melter to use in a "substantial snowstorm," town spokesman Brian Devine said.
North Hempstead crews are starting the melting effort at a Long Island Rail Road station lot at South Bayles Avenue in Port Washington.
"Parking is an issue in Port Washington. We want to optimize the number of spaces available so they are not taken up by mountains of snow," Bosworth said.
Mitchell Pally, a Long Island representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said snow is often dumped at municipal lots, to the frustration of commuters. "You end up moving the snow to places that you hope are out of the way, and what tends to be out of the way are parking spaces at the end" of lots.
Bosworth said the melter can shave hours off snow-removal work for town highway workers. Using the new equipment eliminates the need to haul snow to a local beach for disposal.
Crews also can move piles of snow blocking lines of sight at street corners and take them to the truck to be melted.
"If you come to an intersection with a wall of snow on both sides, and you can't see, [you have to] really creep onto the oncoming traffic to see what's going on," Tiernan said.
The loud turbine-powered vehicle won't be used near homes, officials said.
After the LIRR station lot is cleared, the melter will be used at an industrial lot in Westbury, where snow has been piled almost 15 feet high.
Tiernan said he hopes the machine being used this week makes conditions easier for his crews that are faced with a punishing pace of back-to-back storms.
"We work around the clock," he said. "Snow is a tough business."