Kevin McGrath clears his driveway in Northport. (2000)

Kevin McGrath clears his driveway in Northport. (2000) Credit: Newsday / John Keating

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 31, 2000.

It snowed yesterday as it hadn't snowed in five years, burying much of Long Island under about a foot of snow, leaving at least two men dead from heart attacks after shoveling, forcing dozens of drivers to abandon cars on blanketed roadways and shutting down businesses across Nassau and Suffolk.

The last snowstorm of the century laid down a pretty, but treacherous, coating of snow across the metropolitan region, beginning a few hours earlier than some had projected but otherwise measuring up to forecasters' predictions.

Areas of Nassau County saw snow accumulations up to 14 inches in Valley Stream and other parts of the South Shore, said Mike Wyllie, meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In Suffolk County, Montauk Point and part of the East End got only trace amounts of snowfall, while the western half of the county saw higher accumulations, including 12 inches in Huntington Station and 11.2 in Brentwood.

As hundreds of plows labored to clear roadways of the snow that had begun falling before 5 a.m., much of the Island was brought to a snowy standstill. Both Suffolk and Nassau Counties declared snow emergencies.

"That is basically designed to reinforce what we have been asking for all along, and that is that motorists remove their vehicles from the roadway to enable emergency vehicles to get through and to facilitate the cleanup operation," said Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta.

The snow closed New York City airports and major shopping centers like Walt Whitman Mall and Roosevelt Field. Yet Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip remained open despite widespread delays and cancellations, police reported no major accidents, there were only minor phone or electrical outages and the Long Island Rail Road's trains were reported to be running about 10 minutes behind schedule.

"It's just a big snowstorm, but they are making good progress cleaning all the roads," said Arthur Gianelli, director of operations for the Town of North Hempstead, who, like officials across the county, seemed to be taking the storm in stride. "There is nothing out of the ordinary, and they will be working through the night to get everything done."

In addition to two fatal heart attacks, at least 10 people sought treatment for snowblower injuries, officials at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow and Huntington Hospital said.

Except for such emergencies, officials pleaded with residents to stay home so they could clear roads.

Not everyone listened.

"The main problem we're having is people getting out on the roads, getting stuck and abandoning their vehicles," said State Police Sgt. Gordon Hansen at Troop L in Farmingdale. By noon, about 30 cars had been left on Long Island parkways, and one apparently fearless motorist had been arrested for driving while intoxicated, Hansen said.

Although roads were passable, there were sporadic closures in the morning; the Southern State Parkway was shut down westbound between Exits 18 and 19 due to bad conditions, reopening about 8 a.m. The westbound left lane of the Northern State was closed about 10 a.m. near Route 110 because of a car accident.

Police said traffic was fairly light, especially because the storm arrived on a Saturday, but it was hardly nonexistent.

Suffolk County Police put chains on the wheels of all patrol cars and used its four-wheel-drive fleet to help those trapped by the snow.

"The roads are atrocious, basically," said Sgt. James Keogh of Suffolk's Third Precinct.

On some local roads, such as Woodbine Avenue in Northport, stuck cars clogged up the streets in the morning until local police could remove them.

"There's a lot more traffic out there than there should be," said Sgt. Don Longo of Suffolk County's Second Precinct. "They're driving everything. There's SUVs out there, there's little Hondas out there. You would think most people would stay home under the conditions out there, but a lot of them are doing routine stuff: driving to the cleaners, driving to the store."

Olivet Martin said all logical thinking told her to stay home yesterday. But as the caretaker for a 96-year-old Mattituck resident, she knew she had to make the drive from the Bronx.

"I had to be there in case of an emergency," Martin said. "Otherwise, she would have been alone."

But not all went as planned for Martin, 35. Her 1988 Toyota Supra overheated, forcing her to abandon it on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 40. She stood outside in the snow with her thumb to the frigid air to hitch a ride to work.

"I looked very pitiful," she said. "So someone stopped and gave me a ride. "

State transportation crews did their best to keep the traffic moving for those hardy enough to travel, using a mixture of calcium chloride and sand to stop snow from bonding to the pavement so plowing could continue.

On the East End, police said they had few reports of even minor accidents. In Southampton, rain turned to heavy snow late, about 8:30 a.m., and by noon had turned to sleet.

In Nassau County, where the brunt of the storm hit on Long Island, Highway and Bridge Superintendent Bob Davis said 117 plows had been over most roads at least once and were trying to keep up as the snow continued to fall. He said they would be cleared once for every three inches of snow and plowed closer to the curbs today.

"We're asking people to be patient," Davis said.

Gulotta and Suffolk Executive Robert Gaffney both asked residents not to leave home, especially in light of wind gusts leading to horizontal snowfall and "white out" conditions by the afternoon.

For medical emergencies, Nassau borrowed several Humvees, military-style vehicles that are adept at traveling rough terrain, from the state's Emergency Management Office.

No details were available yesterday on a man who was brought to Nassau University Medical Center after having a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow. Another man who had a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital, which treated three other people who had heart attacks while working in the snow.

Three men using snowblowers lost their fingertips when they went to unclog their blowers, apparently before the machines had completely shut down, said Dr. Richard Bagdonas, attending emergency room physician at Nassau University Medical Center. Two had their fingertips reattached; the third man's finger was too damaged, Bagdonas said. Seven people were treated for similar injuries at Huntington Hospital.

The storm appeared to be tapering off yesterday afternoon, but Brookhaven National Lab meteorologist Victor Cassella said there could be some scattered snow squalls into the evening. Temperatures were expected to drop, with bitterly cold weather moving in for the next few days.

Because the storm appeared likely to end early, Gulotta said, coastal flooding at yesterday evening's high tide did not appear to be a severe threat, but emergency management workers were monitoring that situation.

The storm, however, darkened the finale planned for the Jones Beach holiday light show, which was to wind up on New Year's Eve and had been attracting 25,000 people daily. The New York State Parks Department canceled both yesterday and today's showings to prevent short circuits and other malfunctions caused by cold, wet weather, spokesman George Gorman said.

But Long Islanders will be able to take part in another activity, he said: Sledding, on the hills at Bethpage State Park. Thousands could show up, but they must have controls on their sleds. "We will not allow anyone going down those hills without steering devices," Gorman said. "It's too dangerous."

In Suffolk yesterday, Gaffney said his Department of Public Works had 60 pieces of equipment out, and 30,000 tons of salt on hand. By afternoon, the county was calling on the 150 private contractors it had available to provide extra help.

"The good news, of course, is that it came on a Saturday morning," Gaffney said. "We had plenty of notice. Monday is a holiday. So we're in pretty good shape."

With the snow tapering off in the afternoon Gaffney said, "That gives us the rest of tonight and all day tomorrow to get going, so that by tomorrow night, hopefully, we can accommodate some of the people that will be traveling for New Year's Eve."

Some people weren't waiting for New Year's Eve for an evening out. The restaurant Tutto Pazzo on New York Avenue in Huntington had 400 reservations last night. Tutto Pazzo has been giving Blizzard discounts for the past four years and big hand-written signs in the front windows yesterday announced another "snowstorm special."

Luigi Petrone, a co-owner of the restaurant, said that diners would get 25 percent off for 10 inches of snow, 35 for 15 inches and half off for more than 20 inches. They had hit the 25 percent mark yesterday afternoon and customers told Petrone they planned to come by four-wheel-drive, on foot, on skis and on snowmobiles. The restaurant's name means "everybody's crazy"-and the blizzard discounts are an example of the restaurant's theme, he said.

"The phone started ringing at 10 a.m. and it doesn't stop," Petrone said.

Business is good because "people get stir crazy during a big snowstorm," Petrone said.

George Poulos was out putting his 2-year-old snowplow to good use yesterday. "We were long overdue for a good storm. It's been too good for so long, we were due to get something," Poulos said, after clearing out the driveway in front of his Freeport home. "I even look forward to doing this. It's a lot of fun."

But for Rich Palladino, of Medford, an Oyster Bay Highway Department worker for 30 years, yesterday's storm was all work. It was the third worst he could remember, after storms in 1978 and 1996.

As he worked the 27-mile run of the North Shore covering parts of Woodbury, Syosset and Oyster Bay, he was expecting to pull an "all nighter."

He figures he will have plowed those 27 miles at least a dozen times and dropped some 100 tons of sand salt by the time he is through.

"With a storm like this, you've got to pace yourself," he said. "Trying to go as fast as you can beats up on you after a while."

SNOWFALL ON LI
Dec.Jan.Feb.Mar.Total
1989-1990 2.0 3.0 6.0 5.0 16.0
1990-1991 7.0 4.5 6.0 trace17.5
1991-1992 2.0 1.5 2.0 10.5 16.0
1992-1993 1.0 2.0 9.0 15.0 27.0
1993-1994 8.0 10.0 27.5 9.5 55.0
1994-1995 trace0.5 6.0 0.0 6.5
1995-1996 15.5 23.5 20.0 11.3 70.3
1996-1997 0.5 4.5 5.5 3.5 14.0
1997-1998 2.0 1.0 0.0 1.5 4.5
1998-1999 3.0 4.0 6.5 9.5 23.0
1999-2000 0.3 9.3 4.5 0.0 14.0
Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Story reported by Michael Rothfeld, Katie Thomas, Bill Bleyer, Alfonso A. Castillo, Ann L. Kim, Vmctor Manuel Ramos, Joie Tyrrell, Joseph Mallia, Samuel Bruchey and Barbara J. Durkin

Latest Videos