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Forecast: A snowy, sleety, gusty Thursday for Long Island

The first major snow storm of the year

The first major snow storm of the year made landfall on Long Island Wednesday night with more nasty weather in Thursday's forecast. Steve Langford reports from Great Neck. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Catherine Carrera, Alfonso A. Castillo, Pat Dolan, Joan Gralla, Mark Harrington, John Hildebrand, David Olson, Keldy Ortiz and Ted Phillips. It was written by Brodsky.

Heavy, wet snow and howling winds walloped Long Island Wednesday, kicking up an icy mix of snow and sleet in time with the evening rush and expected to continue through the Thursday morning commute.

Assuming there is much of a morning commute after this early taste of winter.

The storm that had dumped close to a half a foot of snow at Long Island MacArthur Airport by 2 a.m. Thursday, will leave another one to three inches in some areas by 10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. The high is forecast to be 30 degrees, but with wind gusts of up to 26 mph, it will feel more like between 15 and 20.

The latest:

  • Nassau and Suffolk police reported few crashes on roadways overnight but along with other officials, advised Long Islanders to avoid driving if possible Thursday due to blowing snow and slick road conditions.
  • PSEG Long Island crews were continuing efforts to restore power in several communities.
  • Passengers at JFK Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport Thursday can expect delays or cancellations.
  • By 3 a.m. Thursday, the snowing had mostly stopped but not the hefty gusts and slippery conditions. A coastal flood warning for southwestern Suffolk County is in effect through 2 p.m.
  • Several Long Island school districts announced Thursday would be a "snow day" while others said they would switch to remote learning.
  • "Some delays"" continued overnight on all Long Island Rail Road lines, according to its website.
  • As of about 2 a.m. Orient had the most snow with 6.5 inches. Stony Brook recorded 4.8 inches, and Hampton Bays had the least, 2 inches, according to the weather service.

Potential power problems

PSEG Long Island, whose top executive spent Wednesday morning facing withering criticism for the company’s performance during Tropical Storm Isaias, said it brought up to 300 off-Island workers to help with any needed power restoration.

Dan Eichhorn, PSEG Long Island’s president and chief operating officer, told LIPA and its trustees that the utility expects the storm to lead to 20,000 to 50,000 outages.

"Our systems are much more stable and we’re prepared for this snowstorm," Eichhorn said.

Within the range of outages predicted, Eichhorn said, "our systems will work effectively. We are prepared and we expect to get customers back quickly."

PSEG Long Island was reporting 70 outages affecting 3,410 customers at 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

A statement on the utility's website urged customers who have lost power to be patient.

"Crews are working to restore power as quickly as possible even as storm conditions continue. Once we have assessed the storm damage, we will be able to provide an accurate estimated time of restoration," the statement said. "We ask for your patience as our crews are facing hazardous driving and working conditions. For everyone's safety, we may temporarily suspend work involving bucket trucks during strong winds."

The storm also brought its own set of risks for Long Island's coastal communities.

Thursday morning could see "moderate" flooding of 2 to 3 feet in South Shore bays, the weather service said. It also warned of "several waterfront road closures and potential property damage."

Waves may rise 6 to 10 feet off the South Shore and 3 to 6 feet in the Long Island Sound, potentially causing widespread beach erosion, flooding and isolated washovers, the weather service said.

'Treacherous conditions'

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said truck and snowplow operators are capable of simultaneously managing both snow and sleet on the roads.

"They know what to do. They can be nimble. They can recalibrate," Curran said at a news conference Wednesday in Hicksville.

In Freeport Wednesday night, several streets went unplowed as snow started to fall heavily. It was tough going for drivers on Guy Lombardo Avenue toward the waterfront. The high tide in Freeport came in just before 10 p.m. but along the Nautical Mile and out to Guy Lombardo Marina, no flooding could be seen. By 11 p.m., an icy mix of rain and sleet as well as strong gusts, were pelting the waterfront.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said the town was prepared for 9 to 14 inches of snow.

"We're actually seeing a really heavy band of about two to three inches an hour," Clavin said Wednesday night. "We're going to be out there cleaning the streets until it's done."

A spokesman for Clavin said Hempstead Town's Thursday garbage collection is canceled.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Jospeph Saladino said residents should get their cars off the streets.

"It’s very important that residents move their cars from the street, into their driveways, onto their property to bring about the most efficient plowing as possible," Saladino said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone urged motorists to get off the roads noting that conditions would be "treacherous" even for experienced plow operators.

"Those kind of conditions are very, very difficult," Bellone said at a news conference in Commack. "It's going to place a real burden on our plow operators in the dark with that rate of snowfall."

Suffolk County police said they were responding to more accidents than usual because of the snow but none were considered serious or caused injuries. At 11:30 p.m., a Nassau police spokeswoman said they'd received calls about the storm but none reporting traffic accidents.

Passengers at JFK Airport Thursday should be prepared for delays, according to an overnight tweet from the airport. Newark Liberty International Airport advised travelers in a tweet to check with their airlines for possible delays or cancellations. A LaGuardia Airport tweet said the storm caused "disruptions," and also urged travelers to check with their airlines.

In preparation for potential storm damage, parts of the COVID-19 field hospitals built at Stony Brook University for $136 million last spring by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — but never used — were partially dismantled, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

The "fabric tenting materials" were removed from the five large tents at Stony Brook University between Sunday and Tuesday, and some of the facilities were emptied of fixtures and equipment, spokesman Colin Brennan said in an email. The frame and flooring remain, and the electrical and plumbing systems were decommissioned. The four field-hospital tents at SUNY Old Westbury were not affected, Brennan said.

If the tents are needed for patients, Brennan said, a "quick winterization" could occur.

He referred questions on why the tents were not constructed to withstand a major storm to the Army Corps. Michael Embrich, a spokesman for the Army Corps, referred questions to the state.

Cuomo last month said that if COVID-19 cases rise high enough, field hospitals on Long Island and elsewhere may be deployed.

Snow day for some students

Several Long Island school districts, including Cold Spring Harbor, East Meadow, Elwood, Massapequa, Mineola, Oyster Bay-East Norwich and South Country, decided to make Thursday a "traditional snow day," while others, such as Huntington and Riverhead, will move all classes to remote learning.

Most districts closing Thursday said no online instruction would be offered as a substitute.

But Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky said his system planned to provide lessons remotely, provided it did not encounter insurmountable obstacles such as power outages.

That alternative is offered under a 1-year pilot program authorized by the state to provide continued instruction on what would otherwise be a day of school closure due to a snow emergency.

Meanwhile, some districts taking a traditional snow day encouraged their students to enjoy the snow while wearing masks.

"Sleep in, study, rest, sled, cook, shovel or build snow-people — and thoroughly take advantage of this gift from Mother Nature," said Carle Place Superintendent Christine A. Finn. "Also, remember that your masks double as excellent face-warmers, so be sure to wear them and practice social distancing."

Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Patrick Foye said the agency is "fully prepared for whatever comes our way" and was winterizing the system, including spreading salt and clearing stations of snow and ice.

"As always, our highest priority is the safety of our customers and employees," Foye said at the MTA's monthly meeting Wednesday. "We strongly urge all customers to avoid all unnecessary travel today, if that’s possible."

Due to the storm, eight additional LIRR trains — split evenly between the Babylon and Ronkonkoma branches — will be in service Thursday as the LIRR operates on an enhanced weekend schedule, according to its website.

In Babylon, the lights on the Logan family's Christmas tree went out just before 8 p.m., as did every other light on Waterman Street. With the storm raging, the family fired up a gas-fueled fireplace to keep warm.

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