This story was reported by Denise M. Bonilla, Alfonso A. Castillo, Scott Eidler, Nicole Fuller, Joan Gralla, Mark Harrington, Brinley Hineman, Carl MacGowan, Lorena Mongelli, Deborah S. Morris, David Olson, Ted Phillips, Jean-Paul Salamanca and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by Olson.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency for Long Island, New York City and three other counties as a monster storm expected to dump up to 17 inches of snow on the Island moved in.
The National Weather Service earlier Friday issued a blizzard warning for Suffolk County that is in effect until 7 p.m. Saturday.
Blizzard conditions could extend "potentially across Nassau at times, especially early tomorrow morning," Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist in the weather service's Upton office, said Friday afternoon.
It's the first blizzard warning on Long Island since January 2018, he said.
As of 10 p.m. Friday, snow was already falling steadily across parts of Long Island.
Total snow accumulations of 13 to 17 inches were expected in eastern Suffolk, 12 to 16 inches in western Suffolk and 9 to 12 inches in Nassau County, the weather service said late Friday afternoon. Nassau is under a winter storm warning.
PSEG warned that the potentially strong winds and heavy snow could lead to broken tree limbs that fall onto wires and cause outages.
Maximum wind gusts are forecast to range from 45 mph in Nassau to 55 mph in western Suffolk to 60 mph in eastern Suffolk.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said the Long Island Rail Road likely will suspend service early Saturday, with a planned reopening on Sunday. Frontier and Southwest canceled all Saturday flights into and out of Long Island MacArthur Airport, and hundreds of flights were canceled at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
All state parks on Long Island will be closed as of Saturday morning.
Hochul said in a statement that "out of an abundance of caution I am declaring a State of Emergency today as this storm is poised to create dangerous travel conditions, heavy snowfall rates and sustained winds over 50 mph tonight into Saturday."
A state of emergency allows the governor to coordinate state and local emergency efforts and suspend state and local laws and regulations, if necessary, a state official said.
The snow could fall at a rate of up to 3 inches an hour in eastern Suffolk and an inch an hour farther west, weather service meteorologist James Tomasini said.
Hochul warned during a Melville news conference that "storms could be devastating, they could be deadly, they could be dangerous." Strong winds may lead to "complete whiteout conditions," she said.
The weather service said the combination of wind and snow "will make travel nearly impossible."
Forecast becomes clearer
The storm has been unpredictable, causing wide variations in potential snow amounts in weather forecasts over the past few days because of uncertainty over how far west the heart of the storm would travel. As recently as Thursday, forecasters said there was a small possibility of little or no snow in parts of Long Island.
"We’re more and more confident it’s going to take a closer track" to the west, Tomasini said late Friday afternoon.
There was a 1 in 10 chance that snowfall totals could be as high as 2 feet or more in Islip, Montauk and Westhampton, and a 1 in 10 chance that they could be as low as 8 inches in Syosset, the weather service said.
The weather service also issued a coastal flood advisory from 3 a.m. to midnight Saturday for the North and South shores of Nassau and Suffolk, with "minor to locally moderate flooding ... expected in the most vulnerable locations."
PSEG vice president Mike Sullivan said, "We are prepared to respond."
Sullivan said in a statement that PSEG would continue to monitor and pinpoint the storm’s track as the utility performs system and logistics checks, and it has alerted workers to be at the ready.
"However the storm tracks, our crews will safely restore any outages as quickly as these wintry conditions allow," Sullivan said.
Customers who see a downed wire or experience an outage during the storm can call 800-490-0075, or text OUT, to 773454.
Towns get ready
Long Island's municipal leaders were gearing up for the storm Friday and warned Long Islanders to stay off the roads.
"We are expecting blind-out conditions during the overnight hours," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman urged residents to "stay inside."
"Make sure you're ready to not go outside for at least 36 hours, and we will all get through this," he said.
Blakeman said plows will not operate if visibility is low.
"We are expecting there will be a whiteout, so we might have to stand down for four or five hours during the course of this storm…," he said. "The roads won't be clear probably until Sunday morning."
Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said he was concerned about snowdrifts from blizzard-force winds.
"We know we’re going to face some additional challenges because of the wind," he said Friday morning. "We’ll have roads we’ll plow multiple times, and 15 minutes later it’ll look like we never touched it."
In Riverhead, Highway Superintendent Mike Zaleski said town crews will "plow the same roads over and over and over and keep our main thoroughfares open with the drifting and blizzard conditions."
Officials in towns across the Island said crews on Friday were salting and sanding roads in anticipation of the storm, and they urged residents to move vehicles off the street to allow plows to clear snow.
"Clearing main roads to assist any first responders or emergency vehicles will be a top priority as our DPW crews work to keep up with what is expected to be a fast-accumulating snowfall," Babylon Town spokesman Patrick Maslinski said in a statement.
In an effort in Glen Cove to get vehicles off the street, "we're giving residents permission to park on their lawn, which they wouldn't typically have," Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said.
In Southampton, Highway Superintendent Charles McArdle said the town police department has been asked to send out warning summonses for overnight parking.
Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said forecasts of snow Saturday and freezing temperatures Sunday mean the snow isn’t likely to melt quickly.
"If possible, please stay off the roads throughout the weekend," Saladino said.
Oyster Bay, Huntington and North Hempstead were among the towns opening up warming centers Saturday and, in some cases, Sunday as well.
In Southold, Highway Superintendent Daniel J. Goodwin said the department is preparing for wind and water damage.
"We've also got equipment ready to go out for any fallen trees and flooding, which we're kind of anticipating due to the strength of the winds and the tides that are going to be coming in with this system as well," he said.
If the storm qualifies as a blizzard, it is because there would be sustained winds or frequent gusts of at least 35 mph and visibility of less than a quarter mile, the weather service said.
Temperatures will slide to the teens or lower 20s by 9 a.m. Saturday, with wind chills below zero on parts of the Island. The snow was expected to taper off early Saturday evening. The nighttime low will sink to 9 to 16, with wind chills as low as minus 10. Sunday will see highs in the mid-20s, but with wind chills as low as minus 10.
National Grid, the regional natural gas supplier, said it’s making preparations for the storm, with crews conducting flood patrols in low-lying areas and staffing up to respond to any problems on the system, which is almost exclusively underground.
Long Island customers can report any problems to National Grid at 800-490-0045.