The winter storm walloped Long Island highways and thoroughfares, turning speedy roadways to a crawl, with some drivers spinning out and stalling in snowbanks on Thursday.
As state and local officials implored motorists to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, first responders fanned out to clear accidents and disabled vehicles from the roadways.
Nassau police responded to 104 accidents and assisted 257 motorists from 1 a.m. Thursday until midnight. Suffolk police recorded 115 auto accidents until midnight, officials said.
“The situation on the roads is dangerous. It shouldn’t be underestimated,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday morning. Cuomo cautioned drivers about possible black ice when the temperature dropped later Thursday.
Cuomo also said stranded motorists would get in the way of snow plows and make it more dangerous for first responders.
“It means we have to send out a truck, we have to send out help and that puts other people’s lives in danger,” Cuomo said.
State transportation department officials estimated that Long Island roads saw 80 percent less traffic than normal.
In Islip, public works crews dispatched 450 pieces of equipment for plow operations along the town’s 1,200 miles of road beginning at 6:30 a.m., officials said.
The East End took an early and sustained battering from the storm, which produced whiteout conditions, piled up snow on and off roadways and led to the closure of vast numbers of businesses.
In Moriches and Eastport, strong sustained winds split trees and piled up massive snow drifts on major roadways and back roads. Several cars were spotted stuck in snow and abandoned on Montauk Highway and County Road 51 on the Eastport-Moriches border.
Brookhaven Town plows and private contractors kept an active presence in the region, but the sustained snowfall kept piling the white stuff back up.
In Hempstead Town, the salt and brine trucks hit the street at midnight to cover the town’s 1,200 miles of roadway before the plows began at 6 a.m. Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said the town began the storm with 40,000 tons of salt and was down to 35,000 tons by around 10 a.m.
To the east, residents largely heeded official warnings to keep off roadways. Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron advised motorists to stay in their cars if they got stuck.
“Generally, if they’re in a place where they’re not going to get hit, stay in the vicinity of the vehicle and call us,” Cameron said. He also advised carrying an emergency kit with essentials to keep warm, including a hat, gloves and blankets.
“Because of the extreme cold, if you’re not properly equipped, with a hat and gloves for instance, and you try to walk somewhere, you might get frostbite,” Cameron said. “It really is dangerous.”
State transportation officials also warned stalled drivers to make sure their vehicle’s tailpipe wasn’t muffled by snow if the car was running.
“That’s the silent killer,” said New York State DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri. “You could die waiting in your car for help.”
Suffolk County Police Officer Matthew White patrolled the roadways and helped dozens of stranded motorists Thursday along his sector of the Long Island Expressway
White, 41, and other officers — many of them members of the department’s Highway Patrol Bureau — drove up and down the LIE and pushed vehicles out of low areas, shoveled out tires, handled fender-benders and, in one case for White, drove a man to a diner in Commack as he waited for a tow truck.
“When bad weather hits, we get inundated with calls,” White said during a ride-along with a Newsday reporter. “I couldn’t even tell you how many I stopped at and we got them going.”
White drove between exits 51 and 55 at about 35 mph watching for stranded drivers.
“You’re monitoring the weather, you’re monitoring the radio,” he said. “I’m checking the service roads and I’m checking the eastbound side for any spinouts or any crashes. It’s not just a one-way thing.”
With Rachel Uda and Mark Harrington