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'Twas a tale of two snowstorms on Long Island

Jonathan Megna, 12, gets pulled on a snowboard

Jonathan Megna, 12, gets pulled on a snowboard by his 15-month-old Siberian Husky, "Beau," in Nesconset, wednesday. (Jan. 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

It was a tale of two storms.

A hulking winter weather system Wednesday dumped 6 to 12 inches of wet snow in western Nassau in rapid-fire fashion. The storm slowed and strengthened as it plowed on, briefly plunging the East End into whiteout conditions and dropping almost twice as much snow across eastern Suffolk well into the afternoon, authorities said.

Yet the region appeared to pull through the wintry blast relatively unscathed. After a deluge of school closings Wednesday, nearly all of them reopened today, though several districts in Suffolk announced delays. 

Braced for the worst after a crippling blizzard two weeks ago, crews plowed every road on Long Island Wednesday, authorities said, making them passable for Thursday morning's commute.

The Long Island Rail Road announced it expected to run normal service Thursday, after canceling about 37 percent of its trains Wednesday. Last month's storm disrupted service for three days. And Suffolk Bus, after canceling all service Wednesday, was to be back in service Thursday.

To be sure, the storm packed a punch. On the East End, where the National Weather Service said as much 16 inches fell, visibility was zero in Wednesday's early morning hours, and whipping winds created dangerous snow drifts. Southampton declared a snow emergency, asking drivers to stay off streets, and it opened a warming shelter.

"In some ways, it was worse than the blizzard that we had in December," said George Woodson, the Riverhead highway superintendent. "You couldn't see anything in this storm for hours."

Wednesday's storm and the blizzard strained salt supplies within a short time in Riverhead and East Hampton, where officials said they are waiting on shipments that will get them through the next storm.

But authorities across the Island agreed: Wednesday's event wrought less chaos than last month's blizzard, mostly because wind gusts were tamer. Winds gusted up to 48 mph in Westhampton Wednesday morning but generally stayed below 30 mph in noncoastal areas, the weather service said. The blizzard brought gusts up to 63 mph.

"It wasn't nearly the predicament we faced with the last storm," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

The storm was actually two systems that came together - one from the south and another from the west - and strengthened, said John Murray, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton. He said the fast-moving storm gathered power as the two systems more fully merged in the east, giving the East End more snow.

Murray said Thursday and Friday would be dry but predicted snow showers for the weekend with little accumulation.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the storm's timing overnight meant fewer vehicles were stranded on roads and blocked snowplows. Police said there were more than 100 traffic accidents on Long Island but none were serious.

Eileen Peters, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, responsible for most major highways in the region, said road crews would be out Thursday morning treating highways to combat icing.

More than 1,000 flights at the metropolitan area's three major airports and Long Island MacArthur Airport were canceled.

About 3,000 buildings and residences lost power due to the storm, said Long Island Power Authority spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, who noted most outages were on the East End. All but 27 customers had power restored by Wednesday afternoon.

For the Island's countless day laborers, the storm presented an opportunity. In Huntington Station, Alfredo Grijalva, 23, an emigrant from Guatemala, walked side streets, shovel in hand, ready to clean driveways for $30 a pop.

"It beats spending all these days inside staring at walls," said Grijalva. "There's plenty of work mowing lawns and cutting trees in the summer, but almost nothing to do now."

Others frolicked outside in snow perfect for snowballs and sledding. So many people crowded into Cedar Creek Park in Wantagh for sledding that Nassau police were called to monitor the situation, a police spokesman said.

With Stacey Altherr,

Mark Harrington, Jennifer Maloney, Debbie Tuma and Patrick Whittle

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