Long Island Blizzard Dumps 30 Inches, Halts Travel

Long Island blizzard

There was a period when it seemed this winter would be remembered not for Mother Nature’s fury but instead for sweaty 60-degree December days. Not anymore.

The blizzard of 2016 lived up to the hype, spawning swirling and driving snow that caused whiteout conditions, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency and issue a travel ban that was lifted at 7 a.m. Sunday, 15 hours after it had gone into effect. A blizzard warning that had been in effect since early Saturday also expired.

“Traveling has resumed and has resumed without issue thus far,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a Sunday morning press conference.

When Mother Nature’s pent up fury finally got under control, nearly 30 inches had fallen on the Island. The Nor’easter also proved fatal. Three people apparently attempting to clear snow had died, a 61-year-old man in West Hempstead, a 94-year-old Smithtown man, and a 75-year-old woman from Huntington Station. Overall, there were 18 reported deaths from the blizzard, which slammed much of the mid-Atlantic.

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone told the Press county and state roads are passable but secondary roads could take more of an effort to clear. Calling it an “extraordinary” storm, he said it could take a few days for crews to clear all the snow.

Bellone did say the county “dodged” a bullet because there were no reports of significant flooding, which was a top concern among state and local officials.

On Sunday morning residents awoke to mounds of snow along sidewalks and in driveways. There was the ubiquitous hum of snow blowers and sound of shovels colliding with pavement. Instead of drifting snow, LI was being bathed in a glorious blue sky, but despite the superb conditions it could take a few days for local municipalities to clean up the mess.

The National Weather Service’s Upton office released unofficial snowfall totals that surpassed even upgraded predictions of up to two feet. Hicksville had the most significant snowfall with 29.6 inches. Other communities saw a little more than two feet, while others were lucky enough to record about a foot and a half. In Suffolk, the highest total reported by the weather service was 26.5 in Commack.

The storm was so powerful that officials decided Saturday afternoon to suspend service on the Long Island Rail Road and institute a travel ban on the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway. The travel ban has since been lifted. But officials at the LIRR said service would remain suspended with crews working through the day to make tracks passable and clear LIRR yards that remain buried under two feet of snow.

“The problem we’re still having is the Long Island Rail Road, which sustained significant damage in the yards,” Cuomo told reporters.

Crews, the railroad said, will focus on the most highly-traveled branches with the goal of returning service for the Monday morning commute.

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At area airports, airlines were working on a reduced schedule after going a day with no flights at all.

Long Island MacArthur Airport said flights were cancelled until late Sunday afternoon and advised travelers to check with airlines for updates.

The above-ground power lines across Long Island appeared to hold up well through the storm. The number of people without power fluctuated all day Saturday, with PSEG Long Island reporting that it had restored service to more than 25,000 customers.

The one death in Nassau was a 61-year-old West Hempstead man who suffered cardiac arrest while shoveling snow, Nassau County police said. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Suffolk County police reported two blizzard-related deaths. A 75-year-old woman shoveling at her Tippen Drive home had difficulty breathing and was transported to Huntington Hospital, where she died, police said. In Smithtown, a 94-year-old man collapsed near his snow blower and was pronounced dead at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, police said.

“I think it’s something we’re going to pay a lot more attention to,” Bellone said of getting the word out about elderly residents shoveling deep snow in the bitter cold.

UPDATE: Authorities have identified a fourth blizzard-related death. A 66-year-old man was fatally struck by a snow plow in front of his Oyster Bay Cove home on Sunday, Nassau County police said.

(Photo credit: New York Governor’s Office)