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Blizzard warning expires for Long Island as storm pulls away

A look at the snow falling on Long Island on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.

Heavy snow and near-whiteout conditions made for treacherous travel Thursday, leaving some drivers who dared to venture out stranded as a foot or more of snow fell on parts of Long Island, officials said.

A blizzard warning expired at 6 p.m. as the storm pulled away — but not before Suffolk County took the brunt of it, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

Many of those who did not heed warnings and took to the roads anyway — perhaps out of necessity — wound up regretting it: The governor said there were “many, many ramps on the LIE” where cars got stuck and had to be pulled out by tow trucks.

Nassau County police highway patrol Sgt. Rob Beccaris said the Long Island Expressway was “littered with disabled motorists,” whose cars had veered off the road into snowbanks.

Suffolk police officers helped dozens of drivers dislodge their stuck vehicles, said police Commissioner Timothy Sini.

The governor decided against closing any roads — the LIE included — or the Long Island Rail Road, New York City subways or the airports.

Several factors led Cuomo and his team to keep the roads on Long Island open. The state purchased “dozens” more snow plows this year, which means more workers and equipment were out clearing the roads. And, the forecast for Thursday’s storm was not as bad as previous storms.

“Right now, we feel comfortable where we are, as long as people stay off the roads,” Cuomo said at an afternoon news conference at the Dix Hills LIE rest stop, as the snow continued to fall.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone later said the state made the right decision to not close the LIE.

“One of other successes today was the public really did heed the call to stay off the roads to the maximum extent possible,” Bellone said.

The governor noted that the low traffic volume on the streets was “actually helping us” as plows were able to access roads.

On the ride out from Manhattan to Dix Hills, Cuomo said he saw dozens of motorists stuck on the road and off ramps.

Earlier, Cuomo had encouraged business owners to close early so workers wouldn’t have to travel during the Thursday evening rush.

The governor said he anticipated “we should be in good shape” for the Friday morning commute.

Bellone said county roads were passable but warned dropping temperatures and the tough time plow operators had reaching asphalt would make icy conditions likely for the morning commute.

The weather service warned that “blowing and drifting snow could still, however, lead to hazardous travel and local whiteout conditions” into the night.

“All county roads are passable, but there’s still much more work to be done,” he said. “There’s a strong likelihood of icy roads tomorrow.”

He urged residents to stay home if possible Friday morning or use caution if they have to go to work.

“If you do not need to go out, please stay at home,” Bellone said at a Commack news conference in front of a salt mound.

The leader in the snowfall clubhouse as of 3 p.m. was Farmingville, with 14.4 inches. Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma reported 13.7 inches. Centereach saw 13.5 inches and Plainview 13 inches, according to reports to the weather service.

Bellone had declared a state of emergency in the county effective at 11 a.m. as forecasters said snow was rapidly accumulating at rates ranging from 1 to just over 3 inches per hour.

Declaring a state of emergency allows the government to provide mutual aid as needed to other governments and make purchases quickly through an expedited process, Suffolk spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said. As of Thursday afternoon, she said she was unaware of anything specific the county needs.

It could also allow the county to be reimbursed by the state or federal government for some storm costs, she said.

By midmorning, county officials had reported dozens of spinouts and minor accidents, but no serious injuries.

There were multiple accidents — including one involving a tractor trailer — on the westbound Long Island Expressway that police said involved two minor injuries. A stretch of the westbound LIE was closed between exits 34 and 36 shortly before 10 a.m., and reopened about two hours later, officials said.

“If you don’t need to be on the roadway, please don’t take to the roadway,” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said as the storm kicked into gear.

Bellone urged residents to “stay with your family indoors if you can.”

Heavy snow wasn’t the only issue: High winds contributed to the problems also.

PSEG Long Island said a total of 30,000 Long Island customers experienced outages as a result of Thursday’s storm, and that as of 4:45 p.m., all but 1,873 had been restored. The largest outage during the day was in the Peconic area of Southold, which saw some 14,000 customers lose power for about 10 minutes when a transmission line tripped. The outage was restored.

The 30,000 customer outages resulted in 159 separate jobs requiring crew repairs, PSEG said. By early evening, crews were still working at 99 separate outage locations.

It was too early to make a call as to whether the system can be officially called a blizzard, said Peter Wichrowski, weather service meteorologist in Upton.

He said it will take a little time to look back on observations to determine if the definition had been satisfied. That would be sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or up, with falling or blowing snow reducing visibilities to a quarter-mile or less, over at least three hours.

Areas of Long Island saw sustained winds of around 25 to 30 mph, and up to 35 mph at MacArthur, said Nelson Vaz, weather service meteorologist in Upton. Top gusts were in the 50s, with a few, especially in Suffolk, reaching the 60s, he said.

Blustery conditions can be expected to continue Thursday night, leading to widespread blowing snow, the weather service said.

Temperatures overnight into Friday go down to around the mid-teens, with Friday looking to feature mostly sunny skies and highs around the upper 20s.

Travel conditions began deteriorating around daybreak, with Long Island seeing the start of that moderate to heavy snowfall, rapid accumulation, heavy winds and poor visibility, said Tim Morrin, weather service meteorologist in Upton. That translated to “very treacherous, dangerous” conditions.

News 12 Long Island meteorologist Rich Hoffman said an average of 3 to 6 inches had fallen on parts of Long Island by 9 a.m.

Suffolk expected northerly winds of 25 to 35 mph, gusting up to 50 mph, and Nassau, winds of 20 to 30 mph, gusting up to 40 mph, forecasters said.

In addition to the sound effects of whipping winds, some rumbles of thunder — along with lightning flashes — were possible, predicted Carlie Buccola, weather service meteorologist in Upton.

In fact, shortly before 9 a.m., Hoffman tweeted, “WE HAVE THUNDER in Mount Sinai.” The weather service also tweeted at around 9 a.m., “Getting some reports of thunder snow in Central Suffolk County now.”

In the run-up to the storm, most Long Island public school districts and private schools, as well as colleges and universities, announced they would be closed Thursday. Many school districts announced they would be closed on Friday as well.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at area airports on Thursday.

The Port Authority said there were 2,300 flight cancellations at its three area airports: Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty.

He said the airports remained open, but that delays were “extensive.”

By noon, the Long Beach boardwalk was a winter wonderland, with several inches of snow piled up as more swirled and danced over the ocean’s crashing waves.

Local residents Jean and Ed Ruggiero, both 57, couldn’t resist making the short walk to the waterfront from their home with one of their daughters, even as gusting winds buffeted their every step.

“We always like to come down and see the beach in any kind of weather . . . definitely when something extra special’s going on,” Jean Ruggiero said. “This fits that category.”

On Thursday morning, most businesses on Roslyn’s main stretch, Old Northern Boulevard, were closed.

One exception was Delicacies Gourmet.

Jim Zanfardino, who owns the deli, has kept it open during every major storm for the past 27 years. He said that residents have come to expect that.

“It’s kind of a sanctuary,” he said. “People trickle in here around noon.”

Gary Peters and his wife, Nancy Peters, both of Port Washington, said their drive to work in Roslyn was very “treacherous” and that there was hardly a car to be seen.

But snow was no deterrent to the demands of their day jobs as divorce attorneys at Peters & Peters in the Harbourview Shoppes in Roslyn, Gary Peters said.

“Neither snow nor inclement weather,” Peters said, “can obstruct liberating unhappy spouses.”

Just because it’s a bad snowstorm, doesn’t mean a surf shop closes.

The Flying Point surf and sporting goods store in Southampton Village has never closed for a snowstorm since Margaret Donohoe opened the location 40 years ago, she said.

“We do well in extreme weather, whether it’s brutally hot or freezing cold or snowy,” said Donohoe, who sold her store to Flying Point last year and now manages it. “People are on a mission to either buy in the summer to buy beach supplies or to buy winter supplies.”

As of 11 a.m., no customers had come by, she said.

But Southampton residents aren’t fazed by rough weather conditions, she said.

“We’re seasoned out here a little more,” she said. “We’re used to four-wheeling everywhere.”

With Lisa Irizarry, Sarah Armaghan, Chau Lam, Mark Harrington, Laura Figueroa, Christine Chung, Rachelle Blidner, David M. Schwartz, Robert Brodsky, Bridget Murphy and William Murphy


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