The powerful winter storm that carved an icy, wind-swept path across Long Island has forced the Long Island Expressway to remain closed until 8 a.m. Friday, said Patricia Audinot, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
Blizzard conditions -- high winds and low visibility -- forced state officials to push back the opening after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered it closed Thursday, Audinot said. Transportation officials had initially expected to reopen the LIE at 5 a.m.
The Northern and Southern State parkways remained open throughout the storm.
The expressway will open up just as Long Islanders are digging out of the largest and by far coldest snowstorm of the winter so far.
Just after 5 a.m. one final wallop of icy snow and strong winds as high as 40 mph from the storm continued to hit Nassau and Suffolk counties hard, said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton.
Winds were expected to weaken by dawn and overall conditions for Long Island are expected to improve between 8 and 10 a.m. as the storm moves east, Nash said. But the blizzard warning that was issued Thursday at 6 p.m. will remain until 1 p.m. Friday. Temperatures -- already bitterly cold -- are expected to dip into the single digits and near zero overnight Friday, the weather service said.
At 4 a.m. Bayville had seen the most snow from the storm in Nassau with 7.3 inches, according to the National Weather Service. In Suffolk, Upton registered the largest snow total with 6.3 inches. In Sayville, 6.0 inches of snow had been tallied.
Because of the weather, the Long Island Rail Road started operating on a weekend schedule at midnight Friday, meaning there will be no service on the West Hempstead branch or east of Ronkonkoma on the Ronkonkoma branch.
Bus service between Ronkonkoma and Greenport will be provided instead, officials said.
According to an LIRR Twitter feed, if snow accumulations reach 10 to 13 inches, officials will consider temporarily suspending service to clear snow from the tracks.
Throughout Thursday night and well into Friday morning, the storm had caused near white-out conditions in some areas. Temperatures had dropped to a bone-chilling 13 degrees that felt more like a below zero reading when factoring in the high winds.
At 5:30 a.m., wind gusts continued to blow thick snow in sideways angles in many stretches of Nassau and Suffolk.
The weather was to blame for at least 822 customers losing power in the storm, according a PSEG Long Island news release emailed Friday morning.
Because of the blustery conditions and rapidly dropping temperatures, Long Islanders were urged to stay home after the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the area from Thursday evening until Friday afternoon.
"This is nothing to be trifled with," said Cuomo, who declared a statewide emergency that could increase the penalty for driving on a closed roadway to a misdemeanor. Aides said it is normally a traffic violation.
Cuomo said the statewide state of emergency would allow New York State to devote more resources to local governments, and allows him to suspend laws and regulations that might slow a response to the storm.
He said the state was sending additional snowplows to Long Island, and had private contractors on standby if more equipment and workers were needed.
At Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, commercial flights canceled Thursday evening were set to resume Friday. According to the airport's Twitter feed, Southwest Airlines is scheduled to resume flights at the airport at 11:50 a.m. Friday. US Airways will resume service at 11:40 a.m. Friday, and PenAir will resume their service to Boston at 6:40 p.m. Friday, according to the airport.
On the roads, Suffolk County Police said that Sunrise Highway and all state parkways were scheduled to remain open, that could change as conditions worsened.
Several Long Island municipalities, including the towns of Huntington, Hempstead, Southampton and Babylon; the city of Long Beach and Huntington Bay Village, declared some form of snow emergency, meaning that officials had more flexibility in ordering changes in residential parking for street plowing, deploying personnel and closing facilities.
At 11 p.m. Thursday, Huntington Highway Superintendent Peter Gunther said it had been a busy night but that "we'll be here until it's done. Since 8 tonight we've had 265 pieces of equipment out on the road. Earlier we put down a briny barrier. We're plowing, later we'll be sanding. We're all over the town."
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said there had been no changes in the town's plans, adding that the town did not choose to declare a snow emergency and no warming stations were planned for Friday.
Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen said around 9 p.m. Thursday that crews started plowing around 8 p.m. after 2 inches of snow accumulated and "we're doing well."
"The snow is scraping off the roads nicely because of the material we put down earlier," he said, describing the snow as "powdery."
One boon to snow removal in Smithtown was light traffic Thursday night, Jorgensen said. "Everybody seems to be off the roads."
In Islip, emergency personnel at the helm of the snow removal efforts huddled inside the secondary Town Hall building on Main Street late Thursday night, ready to pull an all-nighter.
Constituent services representatives will also be manning the phones through Friday, fielding questions and concerns from residents. About 100 calls had been placed by 11 p.m., according to town Councilman Anthony Senft. Most came from residents reminding crews to plow their streets. No power or heat outages or motor vehicle accidents had yet been reported to the emergency operations center.
The town has prepared three warming centers that could be opened Friday, if needed. One scheduled to open Friday is at the Caesar Trunzo Senior Center, 16 Second Ave. in Brentwood.
Thursday night's high tide left no apparent flooding or beach erosion in Long Beach.
A few ventured out into the blowing snow and biting wind to walk on the beach.
"It's cold but beautiful. . . . Glad to see the water isn't in the street," said Mike, who declined to give his last name, but said he was a student at Long Beach High School.
Hector Ruiz, a maintenance worker at a six-story apartment building along the Long Beach boardwalk, was the only person in sight just before 11:30 p.m. Thursday. He was pushing a salt spreader along the sidewalk.
A biting, strong wind was blowing from the north and several inches of snow drifted from one side of Broadway to the other. A city plow came down the street.
"We're all trying to get a start on the snow," said Ruiz, 26, of Island Park. "If you let it pile up it's bad . . . People will have to go to work tomorrow. They depend on me to get rid of the snow."
Long Beach officials said they had deployed the city's entire snow removal fleet -- more than 40 trucks equipped with plows and earth-moving tractors.
Suffolk County declared a state of emergency and opened its emergency operations center for the duration of the storm. It also said temporary shelter could be arranged for the homeless by calling 631-854-9517 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and 631-854-9100 at other times.
Nassau County activated its nonemergency hotline -- 888-684-4274 -- for the duration.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and the American Red Cross announced the opening of emergency shelters at the Glen Cove Senior Center, 130 Glen St., in Glen Cove; the McKenna Elementary School, 210 Spruce St., Massapequa Park; and Paul Schreiber High School, 101 Campus Drive, in Port Washington.
Saturday's low temperature is forecast to be 2 degrees at MacArthur Airport, where the record low for the day is 10 degrees, set in 2008, he said.
The weather has forced massive cancellations, including the Nassau and Suffolk courts.
For information on closings, go to newsday.com/closings.
With Sarah Armaghan, Zachary R. Dowdy, Gary Dymski, Patricia Kitchen, James T. Madore, Deborah S. Morris, Lauren R. Harrison and Ellen Yan