Forecast: Not as much snow from nor'easter as predicted

A late-winter storm impacts the mid-Atlantic before delivering A late-winter storm impacts the mid-Atlantic before delivering more snow to parts of the Northeast. (March 6, 2013) Photo Credit: NASA/NOAA

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The winter weather settling over Long Island for the next 48 hours remains a nor’easter, with wind gusts to 55 mph and coastal flooding expected, but a breath of dry, western air means significantly less snow than previously forecast, the National Weather Service said early Thursday.

Snow started falling after 1 a.m. Thursday in parts of eastern and central Suffolk County, but it was mostly wet, with scant accumulation on roadways.

The heavy snow event — some parts of the East End initially were expected to get nearly a foot into Friday — was downgraded because dry air from the west was being pulled into the storm system, said Nancy Furbush, a meteorologist with the Upton-based service.

“We’re still expecting some snow, again tonight and into Friday, it’s just that it will be fairly light,” Furbush said, comparing snow projections from Wednesday.

She said storm totals for Long Island, from Thursday morning to 7 p.m. Friday, are 4 inches to 5 inches, mostly in western and central Suffolk, with 2 inches to 3 inches in New York City and western Nassau County.

The East End is now expected to get up to 3 inches total, the service said.

A winter weather advisory, wind advisory and a coastal flood warning remains in effect for most of Long Island until early Friday, the service said.Light rain fell on and off Wednesday until about 9 p.m., when snowfall was reported, the service said. Wind gusts hit 56 mph off Lido Beach and 51 mph off Captree State Park, the service said.

High winds were expected to down power lines, and that's what happened as early as Wednesday night. By 4:15 a.m. Thursday, slightly more than 500 customers had no power, the Long Island Power Authority's outage map showed.

Strong winds were reported all day under a wind advisory forecasting gusts of up to 50 mph, the service said.

Long Island officials and meteorologists were also on the watch overnight for coastal flooding. The weather service had upgraded its coastal flood forecast Wednesday from watch to warning, in effect until 9 a.m. Thursday.

Water levels were expected to rise 2.5 to 3.5 feet above normal at high tide and waves were expected to crest at 15 feet in the Atlantic Ocean, causing beach erosion.

Snowfall will come and go Thursday before a second wave hits overnight into Friday, according to the forecast.

Wind damage appears to be the major concern, with the potential to crack tree limbs and down power lines.

Agencies, from state transportation to town public works departments, said they were ready to avoid a repeat of last month's blizzard response, when even snow plows got stuck and some Brookhaven Town roads remained impassable for four days.

State transportation officials said their crews on Long Island have been prepping 229 plow trucks and heavy-duty loaders, including 12 large snow plows that arrived from upstate Wednesday morning.

After last month's blizzard, it took heavy-duty equipment, such as front-end loaders, to clear the Long Island Expressway so that lighter snow plows could get in, paving the way for tow trucks to clear out abandoned cars.

In Islip Town, for example, Supervisor Tom Croci said crews were preparing Wednesday night for a two-punch attack of the weather.

"We're ready for two waves of storm," he said. "One is the high wind and water, and the second is the snow and high wind."

Two 18-wheeler tanker trucks and smaller vehicles were positioned to pump out water from repeat-flood areas, such as Oakdale, West Islip, Sayville and other areas still recovering from Sandy, he said. The water will be released into bays or canals, he said.

Then if snow begins to accumulate past an inch or two, sand trucks and snow plows stationed across Islip will go to work around the clock, Croci said.

The service said the winter weather advisory expires noon Friday, with the precipitation tapering off by afternoon. By Saturday, most of Long Island can expect sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-40s.

As for potential power outages, sustained winds are the main concern, said Wendy Ladd, spokeswoman for National Grid, which is working closely with LIPA and leading storm communications. When a storm "rolls in and rolls out," outages occur and are resolved, she said, but longer-term winds can result in repeat outages.

As part of a storm-response plan, an extra 160 line workers and some tree trimmers are moving into place Wednesday, bringing the total workforce to 400, Ladd said. Included are local contract workers and those being brought in from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, she said.

With Ellen Yan 

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