Storm Blasts Long Island, Jams Traffic

Long Island winter storm
A snow thrower operator clears a sidewalk in East Garden City on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013.
A snow thrower operator clears a sidewalk in East Garden City on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013.

The powerful winter storm that rolled across Long Island Tuesday dropped more than a foot of snow on some parts and created treacherous driving conditions that snarled traffic and caused massive headaches for drivers and straphangers.

Even Long Islanders who left work in the early afternoon found themselves stuck on jam-packed roads that they had to share with large plows also trapped in bumper to bumper traffic.

Some officials acknowledged Tuesday that storm arrived earlier than expected, but they attributed the traffic woes to people cutting their work day short and heading home earlier than usual.

“It came a little bit earlier, but what complicates this particular storm is that our residents were able to go to work without any issue in the morning hours” but were faced with a difficult ride home, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told the Press.

But by Wednesday morning Nassau’s roads were “in wonderful shape considering the low temperatures,” Mangano said. He said crews began hitting the streets at 5 a.m. Tuesday and were still treating and plowing roads the next morning.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told the Press that “all county roads are passable and have been.” But, he said, “there remains snow and ice and people need to proceed cautiously.”

“Pretty much we were blanketed all over,” he said of the strength of the storm. “It was that kind of system, it was that huge.”

Nassau County received reports of 152 minor accidents during a 13-hour period at the height of the storm, Mangano said, but none were considered major. Suffolk County counted 380 minor accidents from midnight Tuesday until 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Suffolk police spokeswoman.

The storm forced the Long Island Rail Road to operate on a weekend schedule all day Wednesday due to heavy snow accumulation—the LIRR’s threshold is 10-13 inches before it starts suspending services—and gusty winds.

The railroad will operate at about 60 percent its usual service on Wednesday, and there will be no train service at the West Hempstead branch or between Greenport and Ronkonkoma. Limited bus service will be offered instead, the LIRR said.

Flights at Long Island MacArthur Airport, which were canceled at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, were expected to resume after 11 a.m. for travelers flying on Southwest or U.S. Airways Express, the airport said. PenAir is scheduled to resume service at 6:40 p.m.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in Nassau and Suffolk counties, allowing the state to make available 239 plows, 27 front loaders and 428 operators to assist local municipalities on LI.

Officials throughout the day Tuesday urged residents to leave work early and remain indoors so plows could move freely.

“This winter storm will bring a one-two punch of snow and extreme cold. I urge all those in the affected regions to exercise caution, and avoid travel if possible,” Cuomo said.

Roads, particularly those in the north shore, will remain treacherous Wednesday with freezing temperatures expected all day, forecasters said.

“It’s dangerously cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Morrin. “We’ll be lucky to get much past the 10, 11 degree mark [on Wednesday].”

He said temperatures were in the single digits Wednesday morning and will remain well below freezing during the day. He noted that gusty winds will drop temperatures to sub-zero levels, possibly around 14 degrees below zero.

There will be no respite from the bitter cold until at least Saturday with forecasters calling for a high of 21 on Thursday and 19 on Friday.

“This snowpack is going to be around for quite some time because there’s really no moderation in sight,” Morrin said.

He added: “It’s so cold that the treatment they used is not going to be effective.”

Snowfall amounts came in as predicted with some Suffolk communities—North Babylon, Selden, Blue Point, Centereach—seeing more than 14 inches of snow. In Nassau, Massapequa recorded just over a foot of snow, while other areas measured between 6 and 11 inches, according to unofficial amounts posted by the weather service.

The storm didn’t spawn massive power outages, but PSEG Long Island was reporting 343 customers in the dark at 3 a.m. Wednesday. The utility, which took over LIPA’s electric grid at the beginning of the year, said at one point more than 1,200 Coram residents were without power due to a downed pole.

With freezing temperatures continuing through the day, Mangano once again urged residents to remain cautious.

“If you’re taking to the roadways,” he said, “slow down and you’ll get there safer.”