Fierce Winter Storm Hits Tri-State Area

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Snow is blanketing the Tri-State area Thursday as part of a winter storm that is bringing heavy snow, strong winds and frigid temperatures to most of the Northeast.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for New York City, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties as well as parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.

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A blizzard warning is also in effect for Long Island. Both warnings are in effect from 6 p.m. Thursday to 1 p.m. Friday. That means that falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibility are likely.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a state of emergency for New York in response to the storm.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declared a state of emergency for Suffolk County as well.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also declared a state of emergency through Friday. All state offices will be closed for non-essential employees.

“The impending weather conditions over the next several days will produce a variety of dangerous travel conditions throughout the state,” said Gov. Christie. “I’ve authorized state officials to take all necessary action in advance of the storm, and my Administration will continue monitoring conditions throughout the remainder of the storm. I encourage all New Jerseyans to stay off the roads if possible so that our first responders and public safety officials can safely respond to any emergency situations.”

Some parts of New York could get up to a foot of snow by the time the storm moves out, with forecasts generally calling for 6 to 12 inches. New York City, likely to see 4 to 8 inches, issued a snow alert.

Temperatures were expected to plummet, with some areas seeing highs just above zero.

Snow started falling in parts of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties before dawn on Thursday. The three counties could get 6 to 8 inches of snow by Friday morning.

“We’re going to see a lot of snow and a lot of wind,” said Jason Tuell, director of the eastern region of the National Weather Service. “We’re concerned about whiteout conditions possibly tonight with the blowing and drifting snow.”

Many schools around the Tri-State area were closed Thursday or planned early dismissals in anticipation of the storm.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that parents and school personnel should assume that classes will be in session Friday, but that he and school officials will make the final call on closures in the early morning hours with enough time to send out notifications and alerts.

Carmen Farina, New York City’s new school chancellor, said all PSAL, school field trips and after school activities are cancelled for Friday.

Storm Closes Major Roadways; Causes Mass Transit Changes

Express subway service ended at 5:45 p.m. Thursday. All lines will run local until further notice, the MTA said.

NJ TRANSIT said it is cross-honoring all tickets on Thursday and Friday.

Metro-North Railroad reduced its evening service after 8 p.m. Thursday, providing hourly service on all three lines.  It will run on a Saturday schedule on Friday. Click here for more info.

Long Island Rail Road said service will run on a weekend schedule on Friday. Station waiting rooms will remain open around-the-clock through Monday afternoon to accommodate customers waiting for trains during cold and inclement weather.

“I can’t believe there’s not many people now on the train,” commuter Edison Castro told CBS 2’s Don Champion just after getting off a LIRR train on Thursday night. “I guess they left early from work. We stayed a little later.”

Gov. Cuomo announced major road closures across the state Thursday afternoon in advance of the heaviest part of the storm.

I-84 closed to commercial traffic at 5 p.m. I-87 south of Albany will close to traffic at midnight.

On Long Island, where blizzard-like conditions are likely, the Long Island Expressway will close to traffic at the border of Nassau County and Queens at midnight. The governor said state officials hope to reopen the LIE by 5 a.m. Wednesday, so long as conditions allow it.

As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Cuomo is hoping to avoid a scene like the one last February, when hundreds of motorists were stranded in cars — some overnight — after the LIE was buried under several feet of snow.

“We want to cut down the volume of people who would try to get on the road,” Cuomo told reporters in a conference call. “These roads will be effectively closed. Cars are banned. If a car is on the road, it will be in violation of the law.”

Anyone who is caught on the LIE while it is closed could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to $1,500 in fines and six months in jail.

Fewer and fewer cars were seen on the LIE as driving conditions progressively diminished Thursday night, Sanchez reported.

Most drivers who were on the highway took their time, some braving the roads for one last trip to the gas station to stock up on fuel for their generators.

“After Sandy, you take no chances anymore,” said David Sukoff, of West Hills. “And so yeah, got out early, got some gasoline and get back before it gets too bad.”

Plow driver Larry Vittore will be out on the roads when they’re at their worst overnight. He said even his industrial truck isn’t immune to winter’s wrath.

“You’ve got to be smart,” he said. “You can’t go 50, 60 miles an hour in a snowstorm. You’re gonna get hurt.”

The Northern State and Southern State parkways will remain open. Officials say any decision to close other major roadways will be made if they become impassible.

Just last month, officials shut down the LIE for several hours to spread salt when a small amount of snow fell.

“We have about 150 vehicles out on the road,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told 1010 WINS. “What makes this storm very difficult is not the number of inches, it’s these blizzard-like conditions.”

“To a great extent we’re just doing some prep work, making sure we’ve got all our vehicles good to go, not getting our guys out there too early because it’s going to be a long night and we want to make sure they’re as well rested as possible,” he added.

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