Long Island's first snowstorm of the season could be a record-breaker, forecasters said, with nearly two feet possible in some areas before the anticipated blizzard blows out of town Sunday.
Meteorologists predicted the storm would drop 15 to 20 inches across most parts of the Island before heading northeast. A blizzard warning was in effect until 11 a.m. today.
After starting around midday, snow came down heavily and horizontally by midafternoon. The storm paused a few times during the evening, but heavy accumulations were expected overnight.
As the storm approached, the National Weather Service pushed up the expected total snowfall several times. Meteorologist Matt Scalora at Upton said the heaviest amounts would be in pockets scattered across the Island, and New York City would see slightly less, 12 to 18 inches. Snow was predicted to fall as fast as 2 to 4 inches an hour. Wind was predicted at up to 30 mph.
To count as a blizzard, a storm must last at least three hours, have sustained winds of 35 mph or greater and visibility of less than a quarter-mile.
The daily snowfall record on the Island, as measured at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was 19 inches in February 1978. The maximum snowfall for a single storm was 23 inches, also in February 1978. Lab records date to 1949.
The last blizzard to hit this area also struck on a weekend - Feb. 11 and 12, 2006, when 23.6 inches fell in Great Neck and 26.9 in Central Park. That storm didn't make the record books because snowfall totals didn't get as high at the lab.
A coastal flood advisory remained in effect as well. Scalora said the risk of beach erosion appeared slight, but officials who oversee South Shore beaches weren't so sure. State parks spokesman George Gorman Jr. said he was worried about last night's high tide.
Officials and families made last-minute preparations as the sprawling snowstorm smothered the Eastern Seaboard. At Waldbaum's in Ronkonkoma, Kelsey Baca bought a fruit platter for a family gathering Saturday afternoon - in Connecticut. "We almost canceled, but decided to still go," she said. "We also bought milk just in case we get snowed in."
The roads quickly became treacherous. Suffolk police were investigating 85 crashes by 4 p.m., a spokesman said.
Even before the storm's arrival, the front was causing headaches at Long Island MacArthur Airport, where flurries began in the late morning and more than a dozen canceled flights flashed red on terminal monitors. Flights also were canceled or delayed at other area airports.
The Long Island Power Authority said it was prepared with extra repair and tree-trimming crews and call-center personnel working extended shifts. Just a handful of outages were reported last night.
"So far, everything is working exactly as planned," Supervisor Frank Petrone said. Employees were on call should the Village Green senior center need to be opened as an evacuation center. The town had 1,000 meals ready and buses standing by.
Jessie Stavola of Montauk was out early jogging across the Montauk Downs State Park golf course. "I have to get my exercise while I can," she said. "I'll be stuck in the house the next few days, eating."With Laura Albanese, Lauren Cioffi, Zachary R. Dowdy, Keith Herbert, Deborah S. Morris, Andrew Strickler and Debbie Tuma