Heavy snowfall shuts LIRR lines, Suffolk roads
Two major highways and all parkways in Suffolk were closed to all but emergency vehicles as the first blizzard of the season dumped up to 28 inches of snow on the Island without causing many of the massive problems initially predicted.
On the Island, the biggest problem were the snow snarls on roadways, especially in Suffolk, which took the brunt of blizzard. Motorists were stranded for seven hours or more and even snow plows were getting stuck.
Authorities shut down in Suffolk the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway just before 9:30 p.m. About 1:30 a.m. Saturday, authorities closed all Suffolk parkways.
A Suffolk sheriff's bus taking inmates from Central Islip court to Riverhead jail got stuck about 10 p.m. in Islandia as it tried to get onto the LIE from the service road, said Michael Sharkey, chief of staff for the sheriff's office.
"There's a hill, and they didn't get up the grade," he said.
Multiple sheriff's units were sent to secure the scene as attempts to move the bus stretched past midnight, Sharkey said. Garage personnel also were dispatched to get the bus moving, he said, and vans were on their way in case the inmates needed to be transferred.
As the major roadways became off limits, many motorists were trapped for hours on secondary roads.
Some, like Jeanne Miller of Middle Island, never made it home during the blizzard.
She saw the light of a nearby Walmart and took refuge there.
"There were cars everywhere," said Miller, who had gotten wet repeatedly clearing snow from her car while she sat in the jam. "The snow was coming down too fast and no plows were able to come through, and we were just stranded for hours and hours."
In Brookhaven Town alone, Suffolk County public works trucks were helping 50 cars trapped by snow, but even the plow trucks were getting stuck in the snow piles, said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.
The National Weather Service recorded 23 inches 1 a.m. Saturday at its Upton office but said the Island's highest accumulation was reported by a weather spotter in St. James - 27.5 inches by 1:30 a.m.
Overnight, meteorologists updated snow accumulation to 24 to 30 inches for northern and central Long Island. Meteorologists pared back the blizzard warning to noon Saturday instead of 1 p.m. but said some of the strongest winds and heaviest snow would continue through daybreak.
No serious problems were reported overnight in power outages, train delays and fender-bender type accidents.
"We've experienced other storms with significant and more damage," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said shortly after 9 p.m., having found isolated flooding and other problems on his blizzard tour of the county. "We've dodged the forecast bullet of the storm."
Though more snow is expected to fall, he said, residents should be home for the night, giving work crews time to clear the roads by morning.
Mangano said problems from the blizzard were not as devastating as those from Sandy. As of 9 p.m. Friday, he said, there had been about 120 vehicle accidents, including a gas tanker that overturned in the Brookville area but did not spill its contents; isolated flooding in Island Park; and a plow truck that plowed up a sewage manhole cover in Plainview.
Baird-Streeter said there were no reports of serious wind, snow and flood damage, adding that crews were continuing to plow and salt the roads overnight.
But the blizzard did cause headaches.
The Long Island Power Authority reported about 10,700 customers without electricity about 5 a.m., down from about 12,400 at 11 p.m., and while the storm was a long way from over, it was far from the 100,000 outages forecast by utility officials Thursday.
On the Long Island Rail Road, most trains had operated on time but reported some delays -- up to 77 minutes for a westbound Stony Brook train -- due to switching problems and areas with single tracks in use.
But as the night grew, icy conditions on the rails led to more and more suspension of train service. At first, the commuter rail cut only the Montauk branch service east of Speonk. Then by 3:30 a.m., the Port Washington branch was shut down and stations east of Hicksville were no longer being served on the Port Jefferson and Ronkonoma branches.
LIRR had said service would be suspended if snow accumulated more than 10 to 13 inches on the tracks, frustrating their attempts to clear the rails.
On the highways, snow and ice forced motorists to drive about 2 mph, making afternoon commutes an hours-long torture.
Because the rain-to-snow transition came earlier than originally anticipated, the forecast for Long Island grew slightly more ominous -- from a foot or more in Nassau to between 16 inches and 24 inches in Suffolk. The highest levels were expected along the North Shore in Suffolk, especially on the North Fork.
All night, both Nassau and Suffolk police departments reported clogged roads and fender benders on major and secondary roads.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency effective Friday afternoon to provide more flexibility with state and local efforts to deal with storm and its aftermath.
"It will probably hit Long Island even worse" than New York City, with "Suffolk bearing the brunt of it," he said. "The MTA expects to maintain operations. If the storm got really bad, then we would take measures to protect equipment like we've done in the past, but we don't anticipate that for this storm at this time."
He said 2,300 flights have been canceled at local airports, which had planned to close early, starting at 4 p.m.
"This is a serious severe winter storm but we just went through some really terrible storms with Hurricane Sandy," Cuomo said. "We are not anticipating anything like that. That's the good news."
Cuomo had urged residents to stay indoors: "A little common sense, and we'll get through this one."
On Long Island, the shift from rain back to snow began around noon on the North Shore, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann. By midafternoon the snowfall rate was 1 to 2 inches per hour. The heaviest winds in early afternoon were at Montauk with gusts up to 30 to 35 mph. In the next few hours the wind is expected to increase up to about 40 to 45 mph and gust to about 50 to 55 mph by 5 p.m.
"It increases steadily as we head into the evening," Hofmann said. In Nassau and western Suffolk the winds should be gusting to 55 mph up until midnight and on the East End as much as 65 mph.
The snow is expected to taper off by 6 to 7 a.m. starting in western Nassau although there could some snow showers until noon, Hofmann said.
But a blizzard warning remains in effect for Nassau and Suffolk until 1 p.m. Saturday for the storm that could blow down trees and knock out power to thousands of homes.
Saturday afternoon it will turn breezy and colder with drifting snow into the afternoon.
Sunday will have a high in the mid-30s and be mostly clear with light winds, making for good sledding and cross-country skiing weather.
The company expects to undergo "significant restoration efforts," he said, but added that he expects that any outages will be restored within a day. National Grid has estimated around 100,000 outages during the storm.
On its first day fully in control of LIPA's response to the storm, National Grid on Friday said it has hired 240 out-of-state high-voltage line workers to help restore power in the event of outages, plus 100 off-island tree trimmers. Those are in addition to the 500 lineman and 150 tree-trimmers already working for the company.
With a new moon Saturday bringing astronomically high tides, the storm surge is expected to be as high as 4 to 5 feet. The wind is expected to remain out of the northeast for the entire storm, unlike superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene where the winds shifted to the south just before the storms came ashore and created the most damage.
"So places on the North Shore and the East End will have the most trouble with coastal flooding, more than the South Shore," Hofmann said. Communities with beaches facing northeast such as Bayville, Asharoken and Orient Point are most in danger from high waves and flooding.
"We're expecting some pretty decent beach erosion, especially since a lot of the beaches are already damaged from Sandy," Hofmann said.
But if the wind stays out of the north, it should offer a break to South Shore communities like Lindenhurst and Long Beach that were hammered by Sandy.
A coastal flood warning for Long Island Sound and the Twin Forks ended at 6 p.m. Friday; a coastal flood watch is in effect through Saturday morning.
Tidal surges are likely to range from 3 feet to 5 feet in the evening to 2 feet to 4 feet in the morning. Wave action for Long Island Sound is projected at 3 feet to 5 feet and 5 feet to 7 feet for the Twin Forks.
On the South Shore, the flood warning is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, with the watch extended to Saturday morning. Similar tidal ranges are expected on the South Shore with waves at the ocean beaches expected to range between 9 feet and 13 feet.
In a region still scarred by superstorm Sandy, highway crews checked road salt supplies, the Long Island Rail Road added extra trains Friday afternoon, airlines canceled thousands of flights, and government officials warned everyone to keep off the roads Friday night.
Many schools and civic organizations canceled afternoon and evening classes or activities.
Rene Asencio, 43, was among Long Islanders who cut the work day short Friday and headed to Penn Station to catch a train home and beat the storm.
A police officer assigned to One Police Plaza, Asencio said he was heading home early to pick up his kids -- who were likely to be dismissed early from school -- and pick up a few "odds and ends" such as 5-gallon jugs of water.
He said he was also glad to be getting an early start, as he and his family, displaced from their Massapequa home in the wake of Sandy, are staying with his mother-in-law in Holbrook, adding half an hour to his commute.
The airlines that fly into and out of New York canceled thousands of flights before the storm.
Nationwide, 3,282 flights had been canceled, according to FlightAware.com, a website that tracks aviation.
Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates the New York region's largest airports, said that more than 2,000 flights - about half of their daily flights - had been canceled by the airport before 1 p.m.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has activated a hotline for residents to call with nonemergency concerns during this weekend's blizzard.
The hotline, at 888-684-4274, will be active during the duration of the storm. Nassau residents with life-threatening emergencies should call 911, Mangano said.
The North Shore could get more snow than the South Shore, as it's farther from the ocean and at a slightly higher elevation, said Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist.
The state Department of Transportation has 400 road crews and administrative staff prepared to work on Long Island during the storm, plus extra plows and crews to bring in from upstate as needed.
"Drivers can expect plowing throughout the storm, including a single pass on exit and on-ramps," said DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters, "but high winds can mean snow blowing back over roads and difficult driving especially if predicted blizzard conditions eventuate."
Suffolk has a fleet of plows and 20,000 tons of road salt ready, Bellone said, but added that concerns of a snowstorm are not the only worries. "Obviously the big concern is what's going to be the impact on our infrastructure, given that we've already been devastated by superstorm Sandy," Bellone said.
With Robert Brodsky, Bart Jones, Sid Cassese, Alfonso A. Castillo, Sarah Crichton, Gary Dymski, Mark Harrington, Keith Herbert, Patricia Kitchen, Paul LaRocco, Yancey Roy and Patrick Whittle.