Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!
A powerful nor’easter roared into Long Island overnight and dumped up to a foot of snow on some areas as it enveloped LI in bone-chilling temperatures and howling winds that hampered snow removal efforts in both counties.
The storm, dubbed Hercules by The Weather Channel, teased Long Islanders all day Thursday before blasting its way through the area late in the evening. The storm brought near-blizzard like conditions and sent temperatures plummeting into the teens. Once the wind chill was factored in, some communities were swallowed up by temperatures ranging from five to 10 degrees below zero.
“It’s certainly a bitter, dangerous type cold,” National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark said Friday morning.
Indeed, the big difference in this storm compared to last February’s record blizzard, which dumped upwards of 30 inches of snow on LI, was the biting, numbing cold, which is expected to continue all day Friday—even dropping to the teens in the evening, Stark said.
“You want to limit your exposure,” he added.
Snowfall tapered off by late Friday morning, the NWS said.
The storm forced schools across the Island to cancel all classes and activities, officials said.
Local colleges also made the decision not to open their doors Friday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a post-storm conference call with reporters at 11 a.m. Friday and said, “Mother Nature has moved on, somewhat. The snowfall is over.”
Officials said there were “minimal” accidents across the state, though they did confirm that a fatal crash involving a female driver on the Southern State Parkway around 7:30 p.m. Thursday was weather-related. Police said the woman crashed near Exit 39 after losing control of her car and slamming into a tree. The weather was also being blamed for a fatal crash on the New York State Thruway, officials said.
The nor’easter raged overnight when most people were already safe at home, but it made life extremely difficult for the hundreds of workers battling the blistery weather to plow and salt streets to try and make roads passable come sunrise.
Snowfall amounts in Nassau County ranged from 6 to 11 inches and 7 inches to a foot in Suffolk, Stark said. But, some areas saw higher snowfall amounts, he noted.
Up to 12 inches fell on North Babylon, according to the agency’s unofficial snowfall report, and more than 6 inches in a dozen other areas. Eleven inches was recorded in Oceanside in Nassau.
Despite assurances from local government that plows would be hitting the roads at the onset of the storm—and in some cases before—many residents woke up to snow-packed streets, some barely passable.
But, multiple officials from both counties told the Press that snow removal efforts were hampered by an incessant blowing wind that frustrated crews who passed over roads multiple times only to discover that streets were once again completely blanketed by blowing snow.
“The trucks are out there, they’re working hard but it’s difficult to keep up with the situation,” said Suffolk Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams, adding that crews hit all county roads by the morning.
“It’s a very light snow and it’s blowing it back [on] the road right now,” he lamented.
The freezing temperatures also made life difficult for crews and made salt ineffective, Williams said. The county, instead, changed over to dropping sand on the roads to help with traction.
“None of this snow is going to melt,” by the morning, he added.
Some Town of Babylon workers complained that the bitter cold was freezing windshields, making matters worse, according to Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer.
His crews also ran into the same issue of blowing wind nixing any inroads they made during the storm.
“Guys were out all night,” Schaffer said, adding that he’s “just hoping that people heed [advice] and stay in today, give us the afternoon to clean up.”
Babylon had a fleet of 100 pieces of equipment to deal with 537 miles of town road, he said.
The story was the same in the Town of Hempstead, which is responsible for 1,200 miles of town road.
“It has been an operational challenge,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said of the wintry mix of snow, wind and icy temperatures. “Residents may wake up and say ‘gee they haven’t been snow plowing yet.’”
But they have, she insisted. The town was utilizing more than 250 pieces of equipment and more than 1,000 bodies to tackle the storm. Crews even started salting the roads early Thursday morning in preparation for plummeting temperatures.
“They’ll just continue to work steadily right through until the snow’s done and its off the streets.”
Schaffer said he expects crews in Babylon to continue working through the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Long Island Expressway reopened after an eight-hour driving ban enforced by New York State. The ban was scheduled to be lifted at 5 a.m., but Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to extend the road closure until 8 a.m., citing safety reasons.
“Safety remains our top priority,” Cuomo said early Friday. “I urge all New Yorkers to take every precaution as we wait out the remainder of this winter storm. Check on your neighbors and loved ones, and only travel if absolutely necessary.”
Cuomo later defended his decision to close state roads, including the LIE, saying it was “the right call.”
“We had far fewer people stranded on roads,” Cuomo said, apparently referring to last February’s blizzard, which stranded dozens of drivers, some overnight. Cuomo on Thursday denied that last year’s blizzard played any role in his decision to close roads this time around.
He described it as “a balancing of the risk against the cost,” adding, “I think it was a clear-cut decision.”
All other state roads remained open, but suffered from snow and icy conditions that limited travel. Visibility was also at a half-mile or less at times, making travel difficult.
The Long Island Rail Road, which is running on a weekend schedule, continues to battle scattered 10 to 15 minute delays on the Ronkonkoma and Port Jefferson branches. The freezing temperatures have also created ticket processing problems at several branches, the LIRR said. Customers instead can buy tickets on the train for the lower satiation fare, the railroad said on its website.
The powerful storm also scuttled air traffic with John F. Kennedy Airport briefly closing the airport Friday morning. It reopened just after 10 a.m., but the Port Authority website was reporting dozens of cancellations or delays. LaGuardia Airport was also suffering from similar weather-related cancellations and delays.
Flights were scheduled to resume at Long Island MacArthur Airport after 11 a.m., the airport reported.
PSEG Long Island, which took over LIPA’s power grid on Jan. 1, was reporting minimal outages Friday. Only twenty-four customers were in the dark as of 11:17 a.m., its website reported.
During his conference call, Cuomo commended the efforts of both Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and his counterpart in Suffolk, Steve Bellone.
He noted that PSEG Long Island and other utility companies “performed well overnight,” before taking a swipe at LIPA for its “less than admirable” job during previous storms.
But, Cuomo said, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Forecasters and local officials are already looking to Sunday’s forecast, which includes temperatures finally rising above freezing.
When Babylon Supervisor Schaffer was asked if there’s any good news, he laughed and quipped: “That’ll it’ll be 40 on Sunday!”