NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York officials are urging caution ahead of a major snowstorm that’s expected to sweep across the Tri-State area this weekend.
A blizzard watch has been issued for New York City, Long Island and parts of New Jersey from Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon with up to 12 inches of snow possible in some spots.
CBS2’s Lonnie Quinn explained that despite the popular usage of the word, a blizzard watch does not really have anything to do with snow totals.
In meteorological terms, a storm is classified as a blizzard if for three hours or more, winds reach speeds of 35 mph, blowing snow is present, and visibility amounts to 0.25 miles or less.
The National Weather Service also issued winter storm watches for the interior portions of northeast New Jersey and the lower Hudson Valley, where 4 to 8 inches of snow could fall by Sunday morning.
A coastal flood watch has also been issued for all coastal sections of the Tri-State Area.
On Thursday, the storm system – which had been over Wichita, Kansas a day earlier – dropped southward to the Gulf of Mexico and picked up copious moisture. The storm ended up being so severe that tornado watches were issued for some of the Gulf Coast states on Thursday.
Winter storm watches and warnings have been issued in several East Coast states and counties. A blizzard warning was issued for the Washington, D.C. area, where the storm is expected to be worst.
Forecast models for snow totals were still divergent Thursday evening. The GFS called for 5.5 inches for New York City, the European Model called for 6.2 inches, the RPM model called for 17 inches, and the North American Model called for 21 inches. Quinn said the North American Model numbers are highly unlikely to materialize – given that a high-pressure system will likely prevent the worst of the storm from moving north to the Tri-State Area.
The city will most likely receive 4 to 8 inches of accumulation, and parts of New Jersey – including some counties close to the city – will be hit with 8 to 12 inches, Quinn reported.
The track still may change, Quinn emphasized.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a hazardous travel advisory starting Saturday morning.
“New Yorkers should be ready for a big storm this weekend, should make the precautions now,” de Blasio said during a news conference Thursday morning.
De Blasio admitted that it’s been an easy winter so far, but said New Yorkers have to shake any sense of complacency, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“Anyone who has the illusion that they’re going to be taking big trips on Saturday and Sunday, get that out of your mind. It’s not happening,” de Blasio said. “I think people need to take this very seriously and recognize that this is a real thing.”
Officials urged residents to stay off the roads and use mass transit if possible. New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said there could be white out conditions.
“We do anticipate that we will have blizzard conditions with gale force winds and we really encourage people to stay at home during those type of conditions,” she said.
The mayor said the Department of Sanitation will be pre-deploying 579 salt spreaders Friday evening and said 1,650 plows will be dispatched once more than two inches of snow hits the ground. There will be another 135 plows helping out from other departments.
Sanitation workers will also begin 12-hour split shifts starting Friday morning with 2,400 workers per shift. More than 300,000 tons of rock salt is also on hand.
“I have every confidence that the Department of Sanitation and all its sister agencies are ready to handle this,” the mayor said.
The State’s Emergency Operations Center is also being activated Friday evening to monitor the storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
“This storm could have a significant impact in communities throughout the downstate area, so I am directing all relevant state agencies to be on alert and ready to respond as the weather develops,” Cuomo said in statement. “I encourage all New Yorkers in the region to plan ahead, avoid unnecessary travel and above all, stay safe.”
Last year, the prospect of a monster storm caused a precautionary shut down of the entire subway system, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
De Blasio said he does not expect that this time around, but noted he’s going to be speaking to the governor about giving the city more notice should it become necessary.
Cuomo said around 1,000 track workers will be deployed during the storm in addition to 800 station workers to keep stairs and platforms clear of snow. Third rail heaters and snow melting equipment will also be deployed to keep trains moving, Cuomo said.
The city Department of Parks and Recreation has also canceled the Winter Jam in Central Park due to the impending storm.
Snow-making machines had already transformed a section of Central Park into a winter wonderland for the annual festival, but the threat of a major storm involving the real thing prompted the city to call off the event out of an abundance of caution and safety concerns.
Area airports have already made plans to cancel several flights on Saturday. All American Eagle flights departing John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday have been scrapped.
American Airlines also plans to cancel all flights after the late morning on Saturday.
All major airlines are waiving fees for people who want to rebook their flights because of the storm.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported late Thursday, New Yorkers were taking the situation in stride as they prepared for the snow.
“Winter was coming,” one man said. “We had to know that.”
“I’m not even complaining,” said Barbara Walter of Harlem. “You know, it’s not bad. It’s pretty good.”
They were resigned to reality even if it means a change in weekend plans.
“I’m not going for a run if it snows, so I’ll be in the house,” Walter said.
“I plan to tough it out,” added Rich Martin of Queens. “I have winter gear. It’s time to use it.”
The Trader Joe’s store on the Upper West Side is virtually always crowded – with long checkout lines snaking through the store, and sometimes, a short line at the front door. But on Thursday night, it was at another level as several people waited in line to get into the store just to stock up.
“You know that it’s a busy day when they’re keeping people out of the store,” one customer said.
And at the Home Depot in Chelsea, snow supplies were in high demand. Shopper Anthony Rosario of the Bronx beat the last-minute rush as he bought a shovel and a scraper for his car.
“The second I get home tomorrow from work, I’m not leaving until Monday morning,” he said.
At another Home Depot in the Concourse Village section of the Bronx, salt was flying off the shelves as residents prepared for the storm.
Chad Fernandez, of the Bronx, managed to grab the only two small salt containers left in the store.
“I’m buying the last two, anybody that come after me you outta luck,” Fernandez told CBS2’s Alice Gainer.
On Long Island, Suffolk County brought in military Humvees that will be stationed at local precincts to help out if anyone gets stranded by the storm.
“This vehicle can handle six inches of snow, a foot of snow, as if it were driving on the dry pavement,” said Suffolk police Sgt. James Cerone.
In the town of Brookhaven, residents are stocking up on winter supplies.
“I’m just trying to get everything taken care of, buying salt, a shovel,” said resident Rodney Singleton. “I bought a snowblower.”
Starting on Friday, Nassau County authorities will put a special liquid salt formula down on the roadways to prevent black ice when the storm hits.
“We have 28,000 tons of salt on hand and 3,600 tons of road sand so we are well prepared for this storm,” County Executive Ed Mangano told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall.
He said there are over 200 employees who will help keep the residents safe and said they have new snow plows.
“The equipment will be prepared to plow our roads and not break down as we’ve seen in the past,” he said.
The county executive is also telling residents to have an emergency kit on hand.
“Although we’re not expecting this to be a level of an evacuation, you should always be ready,” he said.
Con Edison said it too is monitoring the forecast and is ready to respond to any power outages.
“When a storm like this comes through, you can often times see power outages come, especially when there’s a combination of snow and gusting winds that definitely can bring down power lines,” Con Ed spokesman Alfonso Quiroz told 1010 WINS. “So that’s really our main concern at this point.”
The utility said road salt mixed with melting snow could also damage underground electrical wiring, which could possibly leading to outages.
PSEG Long Island said it is also performing system checks on critical transmission and distribution equipment and making sure it had critical materials, fuel and other supplies available.
“We are monitoring the forecast closely and our emergency preparedness plans are activated,” John O’Connell, vice president of Transmission & Distribution, said in a statement. “While the forecasted conditions may make it difficult for our crews to get around, our customers should be comforted knowing our crews stand at the ready to begin restoring service, in the event of any outages, as safely and quickly as conditions allow.”
Additional personnel will also be on hand to deal with any weather-related outages and contractors and tree crews will be available to help if necessary, the utility said.
After the storm moves in early Saturday morning, the snowy and gusty conditions are expected to continue through Saturday night before things improve Sunday.