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LI braces for storm as temps dive, LIE closes

Temperatures plunged below freezing and the Long Island Expressway was slated for a midnight shutdown as Nassau and Suffolk residents braced Thursday night for the brunt of a snowstorm that stranded air travelers and spooked commuters.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday declared a statewide state of emergency as the storm started to bring heavy snow, subzero temperatures and high winds across New York State.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also declared a state of emergency, as did more than half of Long Island's towns.

Residents were urged to stay home Friday or take public transportation.

"This storm . . . has the potential to be treacherous," Bellone said. "One thing we have learned from superstorm Sandy is you can never be too prepared."

The National Weather Service forecast called for 6 to 10 inches of snow to fall overnight on Long Island, blown sideways by icy winds.

Across the Island, hundreds of trucks fanned out to coat roads with salt and sand, and an armada of plows was launched, as shoppers rushed to stores for last-minute emergency supplies -- including medication.

Joanne McCloy, a retired mortgage banker, drove to the Target in Farmingdale Thursday night for her blood pressure medication, fearing she'd be snowed in Friday.

"I had to call my doctor and get it quickly," she said, " . . . otherwise I wouldn't have it."

Intent on stocking up, Karen Adams, a real estate broker from West Babylon, pushed a cart of groceries -- "anything nonperishable." She and her husband have a generator on tap in case the power goes out, she said.

Cuomo said the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad will operate on reduced schedules Friday in anticipation of limited ridership. The LIRR will operate on a weekend schedule; Metro-North on a Saturday schedule.

Brutal cold on tap

The forecast for Long Island calls for early snow and stiff winds Friday, before slowly clearing in the afternoon. The high temperature in some areas will be 18 degrees, although the wind chill will make it feel like 2 below zero. Winds up to 24 mph -- and an additional inch of snow -- is expected Friday.

Friday night will be mostly clear, with a low around 2 degrees, forecasters said.

Temperatures Saturday will reach 27 degrees, but with a wind chill of 3 below zero, the Weather Service said.

Flooding was a concern in coastal areas, still healing from Sandy's thrashing more than a year ago.

"We're looking for widespread minor flooding, with localized, moderate flooding possible along the south-facing Atlantic beaches and back bays," said Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pollina in Upton.

The LIE closure was for the entire length of the key arterial in Suffolk and Nassau. The expressway could reopen at 5 a.m. Friday, weather permitting, the governor's office said.

Suffolk County police said that Sunrise Highway and all state parkways were scheduled to remain open, but that could change as conditions worsened.

The MTA suspended express subway service starting at 5:45 p.m. Thursday for more than a dozen lines.

Advised to stay indoors

The storm is the first test for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who met with staffers Thursday night to prepare.

His advice to the public: "Stay indoors to the maximum extent possible."

Even after liberal application of thousands of tons of salt on state roads and the use of a calcium-chloride preparation to keep melted snow from turning to ice, officials warned drivers of the danger of major roads becoming slick due to the cold.

Some motorists said worsening road conditions made them nervous to be out on the streets Thursday afternoon.

"You have to be a banana to want to drive in this weather," said Al Valentin, 70, of Shirley, who was at the Ronkonkoma train station picking up his son. "People are speeding, driving crazy and not using turn signals."

Valentin said once he got home, he'd stay there.

"It would have to be an emergency for me to go out and do anything," he said.

Among the officials declaring snow emergencies, Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray announced a host of closures Friday: the parks department and senior programs scheduled for Friday were canceled along with transportation services to local senior centers.

Residents were asked to remove cars from town roadways so streets can be plowed, a request echoed by other towns.

"Hundreds of town workers will do their best to keep local roadways passable," Murray said in a statement. "Our employees will be working hard to clear streets from curb to curb, and can only be successful if their path is free of obstacles."

Even after the snow stops falling, flight delays will likely continue Friday.

Airlines have to get their planes to New York, but may face flying them in from areas also impacted by a winter storm, said officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the city's three airports.

All flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m. Thursday at Long Island MacArthur Airport. About 650 flights were canceled at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, a Port Authority spokesman said.

The best advice for air travelers: check with your airline to see if planes are flying, said Thomas Bosco, the authority's interim director of aviation.

Bill Weiss usually drives into Manhattan for his job at an advertising agency. But he took the LIRR Thursday and was glad once he saw the snow sticking to the streets and sidewalks of Long Beach around 7:30 p.m.

"I'd hate to be behind the wheel in this," Weiss, 54, said near the LIRR station on Park Avenue. "This is one of those days where you leave the driving to someone else."

He said he'll work from his home in Long Beach's Canals neighborhood Friday.

With Ted Phillips, James T. Madore, Keith Herbert, Patrick Whittle, Emily Ngo, David Schwartz, Alfonso Castillo, William Murphy and Bill Bleyer

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