This story was reported by John Asbury, Denise M. Bonilla, Alfonso A. Castillo, Joan Gralla, Vera Chinese, Brinley Hineman, Carl MacGowan, Lorena Mongelli, Deborah S. Morris, Jean-Paul Salamanca, Nicholas Spangler, and Darwin Yanes. It was written by Newsday staff.
Long Island is gearing up for the winter's first significant snowfall, with the National Weather Service predicting a range of three to seven inches overnight, setting the stage for a treacherous Friday morning commute.
"A quick moving but intensifying low pressure system is expected to bring a period of moderate to heavy snow…," the weather service said in a Thursday night advisory on he early Friday forecast.
The weather service predicted the storm will start around midnight and move from west to east, leaving three to five inches on western Long Island and five to seven inches for the East End.
The temperature, with wind chills, will drop to between 20 and 25 degrees Thursday night and Friday and winds, while calm overnight, will gust to about 29 mph Friday, forecasters said.
"Highest likelihood and duration is expected across LI... locally icy road conditions (black ice under snow cover) possible for NYC and the coast with temps around freezing at onset tonight, and then falling well below freezing by rush hour," the weather service said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul urged residents to stay home as the snow and winds have their way with local roadways.
"With more heavy snow and high winds in the forecast, I'm encouraging New Yorkers to stay off the roads and be prepared for dangerous travel conditions," Hochul said in a statement.
The state announced Thursday night that COVID-19 vaccination sites at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbrook will open at noon Friday because of the storm. Vaccine sites at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, Bay Eden Senior Center in the Bronx and Medger Evers College in Brooklyn will also open at noon, according to the announcement from the state health department.
The weather service issued a winter storm advisory for the region and a winter storm warning for Suffolk, both in effect from midnight until noon Friday.
Newsday meteorologist Bill Korbel said the storm's first flakes should begin anywhere from 11 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m. Friday and the heaviest snow should come down between 3 and 9 a.m.
That means "a rough go" for the morning commute during what he called the "first consequential" snow of the season.
Thursday evening, some local schools and colleges were announcing closings ahead of the storm.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he was hopeful the storm would change its track, as did the one last week that missed Long Island almost entirely.
"I’m still hopeful we’ll see this storm shift, but it does look like we’ll be seeing a real weather event," Bellone said. "It’s coming at a moment, if it hits as predicted, [that] will have a big impact on the morning commute."
Bellone said with most snow falling overnight, residents should be able to judge in the morning if they can make the commute or take the day to stay at home.
"Usually having snow overnight is a good thing, but if the snow is occurring during that time, overnight hours can be tough in whiteout conditions for plow operators," Bellone said.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said in a statement: "Nassau County crews have been brining the roads in preparation for the storm and the County’s emergency operation center is prepared to handle any storm related issues. I urge residents to stay off the roads to let crews do their jobs and call Nassau’s non-emergency hotline 516-537-0321 should they need assistance."
The region's mass transit systems have storm plans ready and town officials are gearing up as well, while both were coping with staff shortages due to the pandemic.
The Long Island Rail Road said it planned to run "normal schedules" throughout the expected storm. But the LIRR warned that there could be delay and service changes—including temporary suspensons—if snowfall is heavy.
"With the first snowfall of 2022 on its way, the LIRR workforce is taking all necessary measures prior to the storm’s arrival and will be working around-the-clock to deliver safe service for those that may need to travel," said LIRR president Phillip Eng, who urged customers to plan for extra travel time and check the LIRR’s web site and mobile app for real-time service information.
The railroad said it was closely monitoring forecasts and would have crews "strategically positioned" throughout its service territory help keep track switches clear. "De-icing trains" will also be used to keep third rails clear of snow and ice.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent organization, urged customers to "avoid unnecessary travel during the snow." The railroad also advised riders to be cautious on station staircases, platforms and when boarding and exiting trains.
Mark Smith, spokesman for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, also advised riders that "there may be delays, detours or route cancellations caused by slow or slippery road conditions, especially along the North Shore."
New York City subways, which have already been impacted this week because of COVID-19-related crew shortages, could see reduced service if eight inches or more of snow falls, according to the MTA.
Late Thursday, Riverhead Town declared a snow emergency for midnight.
"Do not park on the street … to increase the effectiveness of snowplowing operations," town officials said in a statement.
Vehicles parked on Riverhead streets could be towed, according to the statement, and the owners subject to fines and fees.
Crews in Southampton were preparing all day Thursday and will begin salting the roads after the evening rush hour, said newly elected town highway superintendent Charles McArdle. About 8% of the highway work force was out sick and the remaining crews would have "do the best we can," McArdle said.
Preparing for snowfall on Monday when up to four inches were at one point last week predicted for the East End but no flakes accumulated ended up being a test run for Friday, he said.
"I got to see how all the crews, all the barns work and the there was no snow," he said. "So it was like a nice fire drill."
Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said the town’s salt sheds are full and his crews are ready for what he expects will be a relatively ordinary snowstorm.
"It’s certainly not going to be a blockbuster storm," he said Thursday. "But it is going to continue into the morning rush hour, which is always a challenge."
Brookhaven crews spent Thursday spreading ice-melting brine on town highways while highway department staff lined up about 200 private contractors — fewer than normal — to help clear roads.
Losquadro said about 20 highway employees had tested positive for COVID-19 or were in quarantine, but with his staff of more than 200, plus 20 or more employees from the parks and waste management departments, he believed he would have enough crews to battle the storm.
He said it would help if schools closed or delayed their openings Friday morning, and he encouraged drivers to stay off roads if possible to let plow crews do their work.
"Unless it’s something where your job requires you to be there, there’s no reason you have to be there," Losquadro said. "Everyone’s jobs are much easier when there are fewer vehicles on the road. … Stay home if possible."
In Southold, new Highway Superintendent Daniel J. Goodwin said Thursday afternoon that the department is getting trucks and other equipment ready in the town’s Highway yard. Salt and sand is being mixed in anticipation of Friday’s snowfall.
"We’re getting all the back end office stuff in order and meals lined up for the crews so we’ll be ready to go as soon as the storm comes through," Goodwin said.
Goodwin said Highway crews would be monitoring the weather, and high winds in open areas and low-lying areas in some town roads that are prone to flooding would also be a concern crews are preparing for.
"We’re trying to make sure as many drains don’t have leaves on them," Goodwin said. "We have a lot of heavily wooded neighborhoods in Southold Town so we’re just making sure that when the snowfall clears, we can get the water off the road."
In Babylon Town, the salt barn is fully-stocked and there are 110 town plows being readied, with 10 to 15 outside vendors on call to assist with snow removal said town spokesman Patrick Maslinski.
Drivers are on standby and expected to report to work at 1 a.m. Friday but will be ready to go sooner if needed, Maslinski said. The town is asking residents to move cars off the road and into driveways to help with the snow removal. Residents are also encouraged to stay off the roads in the morning during what officials predict to be a "treacherous" commute.
The town has 12 Department of Public Works employees out due to either contracting COVID-19 or having been exposed to someone who has it, spokesman Kevin Bonner said. Because all plow operators drive solo, the majority of these employees would be able to come in and work if necessary during the storm, Bonner said.
Smithtown’s Highway Department, its roster also thinned by COVID-19, began pretreating roads Thursday hours in advance of the storm’s anticipated arrival.
Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said about 10 of 125 of the department’s road and shop workers were out because of Covid Thursday afternoon, though several may return tonight to work in isolation driving trucks.
Highway superintendent Robert Murphy may compensate by hiring private contractors the town normally relies on to provide supplemental plowing to also throw salt and road sand, she said.
In recent months Murphy has also directed his crews to pay extra attention to storm drains and sumps, work Garguilo said will pay dividends if snow turns to sleet tonight and in coming days as the snow melts.
Parks, Buildings and Grounds workers will also be on call to clear sidewalks, public parking lots and public buildings.
Town residents who encounter problems that are not life-threatening, such as vehicles stuck in the snow, can call the Public Safety Department at 631-360-7553.
Residents should download the town’s smartphone app for official announcements. Important phone numbers for town offices are on the town website.
As Islip officials prepare for up to six inches of snow to be dumped on the town, they are leaning on the public works department, which has been preparing since the summer for winter snowstorms.
Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter pleaded with residents to be wary of traveling in hazardous conditions Friday morning and pause driving unless "absolutely necessary."
"I just can’t impress enough to be prepared, be ready and really, really be safe," she said.
Department of Public Works Commissioner Tom Owens described the preparation for Friday’s snowfall as "all hands on deck."
Crews began treating the roadways Thursday, he said. Islip Town has 22,500 tons of salt and 15,000 tons of sand on hand for the town’s roadways. An estimated 500 pieces of equipment are at the ready for clearing and treating roads. "We try to always get ahead of the curb," Owens said.
Although the coronavirus has impacted the workforce for the public works department throughout the pandemic, Owens said his team "played some chess" to ensure enough employees were on hand for Thursday and Friday. Officials asked residents to avoid parking on the street to give crews better access to clear the roads.
North Hempstead town officials said they are properly stocked and staffed to combat the upcoming snowfall.
The town, which is responsible for about 300 lane miles of roads, will have at least 40 employees spreading a salt brine mix to ensure roads don’t get icy before snowfall, said Brian Devine, director of communications for Supervisor Jennifer DeSena. The town has about 6,000 tons of salt on hand and is fully stocked with sand as well.
He added that town workers will have about 60 pieces of equipment, including plows, to clear snow.
"They are prepared and they will do what they can to keep our residents safe and the roadways cleared," Devine said.