Editorial: Snowstorm Nemo leaves questions behind
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Call this weekend's snow blast a direct hit, and a near-miss.
It blanketed parts of Long Island with as much snow as any storm ever has. Records in Suffolk County were approached and eclipsed. Into Sunday, main thoroughfares improved as sun and plows did their work, but 27 miles of the Long Island Expressway remained closed for a second day as the removal of stranded vehicles continued and stronger state plows to break stubborn road ice came to the rescue. As off-island reinforcements for key arteries arrived, however, the chopper for News 12 Long Island beamed aerial shots of residential roads in Brookhaven and Smithtown, as well as some in Islip and Huntington, that remained largely impassable, huge fields of snow interrupted by the heads of mailboxes and cleared driveways that dead-ended at the street.
In many ways, it was a tale of two Islands. At noon yesterday, a convoy of monster-sized New York State Thruway Authority plows looked out of place as it headed east on the LIE on perfectly clean blacktop in Nassau County. Nemo was a direct hit in Suffolk and up through New England, while Nassau, New York City and upstate mostly got off easier.
Suffolk got more snow, but that still doesn't explain why the county and its towns were overwhelmed. Once operations are back to normal, that issue has to be addressed. Already there are concerns, as there were after Sandy, that the overlapping local jurisdictions and a lack of communications played a role. Sure, the snow came down quickly, but that's what was predicted. It wouldn't be an excuse in Buffalo. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, the highways were shut down before the storm hit. That may not have worked here, but it's a question worth examining for the future.
In terms of damage and loss of life, the Blizzard of '13 mostly graced us with a snow-soft landing. We were fortunate it arrived at the start of a weekend. National Grid, running the storm response for the Long Island Power Authority, predicted as many as 100,000 outages, but saw a high of 43,000. By Saturday night, the number had dropped below 6,000. Communication was improved compared to the post-Sandy debacle, and repairs from that storm held up well. The Long Island Rail Road maintained at least skeleton service on its four main lines for most of the storm and hoped to resume a normal schedule by Monday. On the shorelines, a feared surge never materialized.
For thousands, the biggest impact was a frustratingly slow commute Friday afternoon and evening as rain turned to snow earlier than predicted, catching many off guard. Traffic on the LIE, the parkways and other roads crawled. Drives that normally take an hour stretched to four or five.
Or, for the least lucky, longer. Hundreds were stranded in serious trouble spots on the LIE, Route 347 in Lake Grove, on Middle Country and Nicolls roads. Many had to abandon their cars, or hole up in them. At least 170 were rescued by volunteer emergency service crews, the police and the National Guard, which took to snowmobiles.
Did individuals make wise decisions about the chances they took, accounting for the ruggedness of their vehicles and the conditions? Would people in Buffalo have thought they could make it home?
Overall, our region was hit by a devastating storm, and yet not devastated by it. Which is not to say we shouldn't learn from what we saw and do better next time.