Winds linger as LI emerges from blizzard

Wind whips up the snow in Jamaica, Queens.

Wind whips up the snow in Jamaica, Queens. (Dec. 27, 2010) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy )

As Long Island emerged from a fearsome blizzard of historic proportions, a portrait of its destruction was clear Tuesday: crippled mass transit, traffic still slowed by swirling snow, ongoing efforts to restore power to thousands of residents and severe damage to East End homes and beaches.

Chief among the concerns Tuesday was the wind. Whipping up to 63 mph at the height of the storm, weaker gusts of 39 mph Monday still hampered efforts to clean roads and Long Island Island Rail Road tracks, blowing snowdrifts over crews' work, officials said.

Winds were expected to decrease to gusts of 35 mph and 25 mph Wednesday - still strong enough to disrupt cleanup work - before returning to normal as the massive storm that barreled up the eastern seaboard from the Gulf of Mexico heads into the Arctic.

"As the storm pulls away, the winds will continue to die down each day," said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pollina.

Late last night, the Long Island Rail Road said it was resuming limited morning service on the Babylon, Huntington, Port Washington and Ronkonkoma branches. Though commuter watchdogs praised the LIRR's performance, thousands of passengers were stranded on trains and at stations overnight Sunday. Karen Marchese of Baldwin summed up the experience as, "horrible, horrible . . . horrible."

Officials said Kennedy Airport reopened at 6 last night for flights. LaGuardia reopened at 4 p.m. with eight arrivals expected after 7:30 p.m. Monday, and departures there are to resume this morning. Most flights out of Long Island MacArthur were canceled in the wake of the blizzard. By Monday afternoon, Southwest Airlines had canceled all flights until 9 a.m. Tuesday. US Airways resumed partial service at 5 p.m. Monday to prepare for two arrivals.

As the cloudy, snowy morning broke into a soaring sunny afternoon Monday, police said they were responding to fewer accidents and rescinded calls for motorists to stay home. There were dozens of crashes Monday but no major injuries, authorities said.

Authorities reported no deaths on Long Island from the storm. The most serious incident involved a Town of Hempstead employee whose hand got stuck in a sand blower and who waited outside for more than three hours for help, authorities said.

Road crews were expected to be out again, cleaning side streets and mopping up where the wind made snowy messes. Hundreds of abandoned vehicles blocking the streets further hindered weary workers, officials said.

"The guys, they're tired," said Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan of town road crews.

Long Island Power Authority workers restored electricity to more than 6,000 homes and buildings Monday but continued to struggle against high winds that could disrupt aerial buckets used to reach power lines, officials said. More than 2,500 were without power Monday as of about 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, in Southold and in Montauk, flooding and unusually high tides appeared to have claimed three waterfront homes. Orient State Park beach suffered significant erosion.

The powerful storm took an unusual path to Long Island, starting in California and moving east across the South. When the system encountered Gulf Stream moisture and relatively warm Atlantic waters, "it allowed it to intensify and help create this storm" that packed winds of up to 63 mph, Pollina said.

With Alfonso A. Castillo, Bill Bleyer, Jennifer Smith, Mark Harrington, Matthew Chayes, Mitchell Freedman and Nicholas Spangler

Why did Sunday's storm pack such a punch?

A major storm system that drenched California with heavy rains earlier this week moved east across the southern states to the Atlantic coast. When it hit warmer Gulf Stream water, the storm intensified with more moisture and more wind strength as it moved north and hit the unusually cold northern air - 5 degrees below normal. That combination fueled the powerful storm.

Source: National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pollina

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