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LI's biggest snow ever: What you need to know

Shahhan Raheel, 11, of Central Islip, digs out

Shahhan Raheel, 11, of Central Islip, digs out his parents' car in Central Islip on Sunday. (Dec. 20, 2009) Credit: Ed Betz

Long Islanders may be greeting the first day of winter Monday with the realization that even if they're leaving at their normal time to get to work, they're already late.

That's because the weekend's snowpocalypse means icy roads, delayed train service and perhaps longer than usual lines for that morning cup of joe.

>> PHOTOS: Record-breaking snow pounds LI

And the blizzard of '09 carved a day of shopping off the final run-up to Christmas.

>>VIDEO: Click here to see how the blizzard is effecting your commute today

But if you're a student, you may be in luck: Go to newsday.com to see if you're off Monday or can go into class late.

Check out our tips for shoveling driveways and sidewalks and helping to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles.

For next time? Keep a "ready bag" and emergency numbers handy. And stock up on wool socks and hot chocolate.

The Long Island Rail Road has a message for commuters Monday: Prepare to wait.

"We want our customers to build in some extra time for traveling," LIRR president Helena Williams said Sunday at a news conference at the Mineola station. "They need to take account of the fact that there will be some delays."

Williams said the delays would vary among the railroad's 11 branches, but that she hoped they would not exceed 10 to 15 minutes.

"Our plan is to go to regular rush hour-scheduled service," Williams said.

Parking at stations may also be an issue because some lots not maintained by the railroad have not been plowed, said LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone.

>>VIDEO: Click here to see the blizzard in different parts of LI

And there will be no service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport Monday - for a second day. "We encountered numerous snowdrifts that are not easily cleared in that area," Calderone said.

Special machinery equipped with jet engines was deployed to blow hot air and melt snow on and around the tracks.

Long Island Bus officials said they expect buses to be running on time Monday, after scattered delays Sunday of 15 to 45 minutes, spokesman Jerry Mikorenda said. Huge drifts on roads in Rockville Centre, Garden City and Roosevelt have been cleared, he said.

Suffolk officials said they did not expect major delays on the county's 50 bus lines. "The major factor is whether the towns have the resources to clear the roads that they maintain," Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said.

>>VIDEO: Click here to LI kids play in the snow

To sign up for MTA e-mail alerts, go to mta.info, scroll down and click on "Sign Up for E-Mail and Text Message Alerts."

Monday will likely be a fairly normal day for travelers with scheduled flights, airport officials said Sunday. But passengers who had weekend flights canceled will be at the mercy of their airlines.

Kennedy and LaGuardia airports are open, a Port Authority spokesman said, and Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma will likely be running close to normal, spokeswoman Catherine Green said.

MacArthur's two commercial airlines, Southwest and US Airways, were flying in and out Sunday night without significant delays from destinations unaffected by the storm.

The biggest problems will come for travelers attempting to rebook flights that were canceled Sunday. For example, Delta rebooked passengers from a canceled Kennedy flight Sunday to Seattle to leave on Christmas Day.

A spokesman for JetBlue said he anticipates running at full schedule Monday.

Bottom line: Call your airline.

LIPA attributed low outage numbers Sunday to "light, fluffy" snow and its own preparations in the face of the storm.

"It's the wet, heavy snow that sits on tree limbs and causes them to break and comes down on wires," said spokesman Mark Gross. "We were out all year doing the storm hardening and tree trimming. That makes a difference."

Even the strong gusts appear not to have caused extraordinary damage. "Anything over 40 miles per hour usually is a little tricky for the system, but this was a good one for us," he said.

Most of the outages were caused not by weather, but by cars losing control and crashing into poles. Gross said 10 poles had been hit by midday Sunday and needed repair crews.

LIPA beefed up crews in advance of the storm and had "a couple of hundred" people on standby just in case things got bad, Gross said. Relatively few of those crews were called in, he said.

Customers who have lost power should call LIPA quickly so electricity can be restored with minimal disruption, Gross said.

Even though LIPA appeared to have escaped the worst, Gross said the authority will remain on alert.

"We still have people on standby," he said. "The roads aren't great. We're still cautious about accidents and snow on the branches. We're not letting our guard down yet."

Customers who experience an outage should call 800-490-0075.Getting rid of snow and staying warm can pose their own hazards, officials said Sunday.

Shoveling - one of the most dreaded post-storm activities - can also be among the most risky for people with heart conditions. The combination of vigorous exercise and breathing in cold air can be dangerous for them, said Brookhaven Highway Superintendent John Rouse.

He advised that people lift shovelfuls of snow with the knees, not the back.

"People need to be very cognizant of that. They need to be very careful that they keep the weight to a minimum and bend their knees," he said.

Another cold weather recommendation: Don't use candles or ovens as heat sources.

"If anything, you hate to say it, but wrap yourself up," said Syosset fire commissioner Giovanni Graceffa. "Blankets. A lot of blankets."

Despite horrific driving conditions Saturday night and Sunday morning, Long Island's streets and highways will likely be cleared by Monday morning, officials said Sunday.

North Hempstead Highway Superintendent Tom Tiernan said town plows finished cleaning up the roads by 4 p.m. Sunday and would add another layer of salt Monday around 5 a.m. to prevent re-freezing.

"We'll give it a quick blast of salt and sand," Tiernan said. "It should be good to go for the commute."

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent John Rouse said his crews would remain on the streets all night to ready roads for the morning commute.

Suffolk's public works employees finished their marathon weekend shift Sunday night at 6 but were scheduled to return Monday at 6 a.m. to "tidy up major roadways," county spokesman Dan Aug said.

In Hempstead, spokesman Mike Deery said town roads would be cleared by this morning.

"We expect to be in really good shape," he said. "One of the blessings is the fact that this took place on the weekend. It gave us an extra day" to clean up.

For many school districts, the cold and treacherous roads added up to a snow day Monday.

Scores of districts are closed, while others will have delayed openings.

To find out about school closings, call your local school district or check its Web site. You may also visit newsday.com and click on the button for alerts.

Whether you're responsible for shoveling snow from your sidewalk depends on whether it is public or private property, officials on Long Island said.

Ice-melting products can be applied to public sidewalks, but when it comes to how strong and how much, residents should "use their God-given common sense," said Brookhaven Highway Supervisor John Rouse.

Maintain the areas in front of your property, even if the sidewalk is in the public right of way, Rouse said, adding that it helps to dig out fire hydrants and keep cars off the street so plows can remove snow that might hinder emergency vehicles.

Hydrants may be buried by drifts or by people clearing their driveways and sidewalks, Syosset Fire Chief John Capobianco said. "If people can dig out the hydrants, it will be a great help to us, and to them and their neighbors as well," he said.

Clean all the snow off your car. There's no law that says you have to, but safety officials strongly urge it, said Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko. Plows could hit buried cars, and people who drive cars covered in snow create a safety hazard, he said.

"I imagine most responsive drivers are going to clear their cars off before they go out and drive," he said.

And if snow dislodges from a car and causes an accident, the driver could be held accountable, he said.

"Certainly, if it were so obnoxious and dangerous as to be an imminent public health threat, someone could be charged with reckless endangerment" for driving with a roof full of snow, said Brookhaven Supervisor John Rouse.

The best way to stay safe after a snowstorm? Stay inside, public safety officials agree. But some easy steps can make coping with winter a little easier, said Syosset fire Commissioner Giovanni Graceffa:

Keep a flashlight - and batteries - at home.

Keep a "ready bag" of toiletries and three days' worth of clothes in case you have to evacuate. In a snowstorm, that might arise because of a gas or propane tank leak, Graceffa said.

"God forbid, if you have to leave your home at the last minute, you're not scrambling around at the last minute," he said.

Keep key phone numbers, such as those for the police, the fire department and your heating company, on hand.

>> PHOTOS: Latest on LI | East Coast buried | Classic LI snowstorms | Send your photos!
>> LIVE: Latest forecast and radar | Traffic and LIRR snarls
>> ALERTS: School and organization closings | Breaking news
>> DIVERSIONS: Going out? Best sledding spots | Staying in? Top 9 of 2009 lists

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