This story was reported by Brinley Hineman, Mark Harrington, Lorena Mongelli, John Asbury and Alfonso A. Castillo. It was written by Hineman.
Long Island is bracing for a two-day winter storm arriving Friday night that forecasters said will bring 8 to 18 inches of snow, high winds and potential blizzard conditions.
After days of watching models of different storm tracks, the National Weather Service said in an advisory Thursday evening that eastern Long Island can expect 12 to 18 inches of snow and blizzard conditions from the nor'easter while the rest of Long Island should see between 8 to 12 inches.
"Confidence is increasing on forecast snowfall," the advisory said, adding, "but there is still uncertainty on the western extent and/or duration of moderate and heavy snow banding late Friday night into Saturday. This will be refined over the next 36 hours."
Indeed, models put out by the weather service Thursday evening still show a worst-case scenario of about 20 inches of snow for the Island and another best-case scenario, now increasingly unlikely, showing just a couple of inches.
Newsday meteorologist Bill Korbel in a Thursday evening forecast said there is no question a "really big snowstorm is headed our way." He called for 6 to 8 inches of snow for western Nassau, 8 to 12 inches for central Nassau and western Suffolk and more than a foot for the East End.
He acknowledged that the storm track projection was still unresolved and that meant a degree of uncertainty in the forecast.
Strong winds are still predicted to be a factor.
On Saturday, eastern Long Island is expected to see 25 to 35 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 55 mph. Winds will be strong, but less damaging, on the rest of the Island.
Minor to moderate coastal flooding is probable on both the North and South shores.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a news release Thursday afternoon: "We are monitoring forecasts and making emergency response preparations for whatever this storm system throws our way. As we head into the weekend, I encourage New Yorkers to closely follow their local weather forecasts, stay off the roads and avoid unnecessary travel."
PSEG said the prospect of possibly heavy winds with heavy snow could mean broken tree limbs that fall onto wires and cause outages.
"We are prepared to respond," PSEG vice president Mike Sullivan said in a statement. He operates the transmission and distribution system for the Long Island division of the New Jersey company. He said the company will continue to monitor and pinpoint the storm’s track as it approaches. Meanwhile, he said, the company is performing system and logistics checks, and 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.
The New York State Department of Transportation has 270 plows to clear 4,000 miles of Long Island roadway with additional crews coming to the region to assist, spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said.
Canzoneri urged residents to avoid travel if possible Friday night and Saturday. He encouraged drivers who hit the roads to stay four car lengths behind plows.
"Social distancing doesn’t end when you’re driving," he said.
New York Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said the state moved plow and emergency equipment downstate and repositioned state troopers and debris clearing crews, ready to respond to the storm on Long Island and in Suffolk County.
"The weather reports have uncertainty, but confidence is increasing for at least 6 inches of snow in Suffolk County," Bray said. "In order for crews to do their job, we needs folks off the road. Don’t wait until 4 or 5 p.m. tomorrow to see if it’s big. Get home, be safe. It’s better to be safe on this one."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the timing of the storm could affect commuters getting home Friday and for plow operators working in possible whiteout conditions Saturday.
"This potentially could be a big storm," Bellone said. "It could turn out to be a lot less than that, but we are preparing for this to be a very big storm."
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said in a statement: "While we are still uncertain of the path the storm will take, and how much snow accumulation we will see in Nassau County, we are fully prepared to handle anything that comes our way.
"The County’s Emergency Operation Center will activate at 4 p.m. tomorrow for any issues that may arise, the Department of Public Works has all of the salt, plows and personnel it needs, and our operators will begin salting the roads Friday. I urge all residents to call our nonemergency hotline 516-573-0321 should they need any nonemergency assistance."
The amount of snow could threaten the Long Island Rail Road. According to the LIRR’s published winter weather policy, service could be "modified or suspended" during heavy snowfall, which the railroad defines as 10-13 inches or more. At that amount, the snow could compromise trains’ connectivity with the electrified third rail.
LIRR service could also be "severely curtailed or suspended" during blizzards, when there are sustained winds of more than 39 mph, according to the railroad. Bray said the MTA emergency operation center is monitoring if there need to be any changes to LIRR schedules and the LIRR has canceled all weekend maintenance.
LIRR officials said they expect to begin preparing their system for the weather on Friday by pre-salting stations, protecting track switches from snow and ice buildup, and positioning crews and equipment to key locations to respond quickly to issues.
Janno Lieber, chairman and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the railroad’s parent agency — said Wednesday that the MTA was "starting the cycle of communications that plans out exactly how were going to manage through" the storm.
"We’ve had a lot of experience as a team in preparing for weather emergencies and extreme weather," said Lieber, who noted that the LIRR last year rebounded relatively quickly from September’s Hurricane Ida. "All the preparations that have paid off well in the past will continue at the MTA."
Mark Smith, spokesman for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, said the agency has begun preparing its terminals and alerting snow removal teams. He advised bus riders to check NICE’s website and mobile app for real-time information.
Long Island towns began preparing this week for the potential severe weather.
North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSana said her team was briefed Thursday afternoon about the inclement weather. Highway crews pretreated the roads Thursday and will return Friday morning. Crews will begin plowing when 4 inches or more of snow falls.
"Everyone is ready and the trucks are gassed up," she said.
Riverhead Town crews spent Thursday mixing salt and sand and strapping plows to trucks. Heavy equipment is on standby due to the possibility of snow drifts, said Mike Zaleski, the highway superintendent.
Islip Town has tasked mechanics with checking equipment and began receiving salt deliveries this week, a spokeswoman said. Salt is at full capacity with 20,000 tons on hand. Crews will begin pretreating the roads Friday morning, and 300 workers are on standby to assist with plowing.
The Town of Babylon has 4,500 tons of salt and 100 plows fully fueled ahead of the snow. Public works crews will be on standby Friday night and will mobilize as the storm impact becomes clear, a spokesman said.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said residents should prepare to stay home Saturday with a wide range of snow forecast for the region, blizzard-like conditions with heavy winds and coastal flooding on the South Shore.
Clavin said snowplows will be ready in advance of snow arriving to clear the town’s 1,200 miles of roads.
"The storm is making Long Island more of a target. We’re telling residents to get prepared now," Clavin said. "Don’t wait until Saturday morning because it will probably be too late. On Saturday morning, we don’t want you on the roads."
Mechanics in Brookhaven Town began evaluating equipment Wednesday night, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said. Residual salt remains on roadways from the last storm, and Losquadro expects crews to begin brining roads Friday once he knows whether rain is expected before the snowfall, as water would wash away the salt. Crews will plow roadways around the clock until any snow stops, he said.
"We’re ready," Losquadro said. "This is going to be a significant storm, but by far not the largest storm that we’ve dealt with."
The Brookhaven Fire Department posted on Facebook that its crews refreshed their ice water rescue skills with a class and hands-on training.
Huntington Town's salt barns are filled to the top with 170 snow plows at the ready, said Andre Sorrentino, the highways superintendent.
The town is concerned about flooding along the coast on Lloyd Harbor Road and Asharoken Avenue, a spokeswoman said. The highway department plans to leave trucks near the roads as a precaution in case they are impassable due to ice.
In Smithtown, crews are in "all out" preparation Thursday and Friday, said William Murphy Jr., a general manager with the highway department. Like Brookhaven, Smithtown is tracking the storm before workers salt the roadways. Murphy anticipates 125 pieces of equipment will hit the roads once snowfall begins.
Towns asked residents to avoid parking on the streets so crews can salt and plow effectively.
Nassau County opened three warming centers for 24 hours a day until further notice:
- Mitchel Field Administration Building: 1 Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Uniondale
- Cantiague Park Administration Office: 480 W. John St., Hicksville
- Wantagh Administration Building: 1 King Rd., Wantagh