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'Extremely problematic' commute for LI Monday

A plow drives through Sunken Meadow State Park

A plow drives through Sunken Meadow State Park during the blizzard. (Dec. 26, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

A second day of treacherous winds and icy roads promised a nasty morning commute Monday, authorities said, after a blizzard blasted Long Island through the night, paralyzing airlines and slowing train and road traffic on a traditionally frantic shopping and travel day.

The wintry scene this morning - forecasters predicted 15 to 20 inches of snow and up to two feet in scattered areas - would assure slow going on Long Island roadways as windy conditions created snow drifts, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. The Long Island Rail Road announced a holiday schedule for Monday.

"All we can do is try the best we can to make . . . [Monday's] rush as tolerable as possible," Levy said Sunday. "But it's going to be extremely problematic. People are going to have to leave very early."

Snow began in eastern Suffolk around 8:30 a.m. Sunday. By nightfall, the storm was a full-fledged blizzard, with sustained winds of 35 mph and low visibility, the National Weather Service said. East Northport, for example, got at least 7 inches of snow as of last night.

The massive storm originated over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday afternoon and swept quickly up the Eastern Seaboard, bringing thunder and lightning unusual for a winter storm, said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Upton.

Authorities said icy winds blowing up to 58 mph swept snow off farm fields and side streets into towering drifts. The winds were expected to continue Monday with gusts as high as 50 mph.

Despite the efforts of a small army of government road crews, hundreds of motorists navigating slick roads in almost zero-visibility conditions were involved in traffic accidents - though none caused life-threatening injuries, authorities said. Traffic moved at a crawl on the Island's highways.

Airport officials predicted the resumption of normal operations by the this afternoon, after canceling more than 1,400 flights Sunday at New York City's three main airports and Long Island MacArthur Airport.

The blizzard punished airlines and retailers but spared parents with its timing, striking on a Sunday during a holiday vacation, and presented children with a wintry playground. State officials announced parks would be open Monday for sledding.

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