FARMINGVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Long Island bore some of the greatest brunt of the snowstorm that struck the Tri-State Area Thursday, and even as the storm moved on, drivers were urged to stay off the roads.
Suffolk County declared a state of emergency for the storm. The snow let up by late Thursday afternoon, but the bitter wind chill was creating havoc.
“This is a serious storm, we’ve seen worse, but this storm needs to be taken very seriously,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
A blizzard warning was in effect for both Nassau and Suffolk counties until 6 p.m. As CBS2’s Lonnie Quinn reported, a blizzard warning is not dependent on continuing snowfall – it has to do with visibility and winds, which were kicking up on Long Island in the late afternoon.
A blizzard by definition must last three hours, and must involve wind gusts of 35 mph or more, blowing snow, and visibility of .25 mile or less.
Some areas saw staggering totals. Farmingville had 14.4 inches of snow on the ground as of 5 p.m. – the highest total for the Tri-State Area.
Late into the night, the sound of plows on the pavement was heard all around Farmingville, Long Island. Sean Walsh with FTW Contracting was working overtime to clear away the snow.
“Very rough, very icy — everything is pretty packed, especially at this time,” Walsh told CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco. “I’ve been out since about 6:15 this morning.”
For Kerry Quiery, though it was a snow day from work, he was shoveling his driveway on and off all evening. And late Thursday night, he still had a long way to go.
“Shoveling a lot of snow, but I have to work at 4 o’clock in the morning, so I have to do it today,” Quiery said.
Residents said the snow fell fast, with near-whiteout conditions at times.
“It’s the wind that made it really bad, and the ice — I guess it rained before the snow and it packed it in,” said David Esteves of Farmingville. “An inch, two inches of ice underneath the snow.”
When the storm started to pull away earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was most concerned about conditions on Long Island.
“Don’t underestimate the potential danger,” he said.
The governor directed all non-essential state employees to go home early, and encouraged local businesses to do the same.
“This storm is particularly dangerous given the conditions that we’ve seen out there,” Bellone said, citing a wintry mix, ice and whiteout conditions.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported from Babylon, the snow, high winds and poor visibility made for a dangerous combination all day. As the wind whipped off the canal and the Great South Bay, thousands in Suffolk County lost power in whiteout conditions.
“Those are conditions that it’s just not possible to be out there driving in,” Bellone said. “It’s going to be very difficult for plow operators in conditions like that.”
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini urged residents to stay off the roads.
“That allows us to do our jobs, clear the roads, keep the roads safe,” Sini told CBS2. “If you have to be on the roads, make sure you drive with extra caution — reduce speeds increase distances between you and other motorists, because it is icy out there.”
While most people heeded the warning, Bellone said police had to perform 100 rescues on the roadway since the storm began.
And the cleanup out here will continue well into the night, with the hopes of returning back to normal on Friday.
“We’re going to be out all night, we urge people to remain home, stay off those roads, they are slick, they are dangerous and the plow operators need to be able to do their work,” Bellone said.
Teams of shovelers worked to clear a path in Babylon Village along Montauk Highway.
“We’re drenched – look at this. My feet are freezing,” one shoveler said.
“Covered in snow — it’s been a long morning,” another said.
The snow was also heavy and difficult to push.
“The bottom layer was really wet,” said a man with a snowblower. “Some of it has actually turned to water.”
Babylon village plow driver Henry Herman was left with his wheels spinning.
“I got stuck coming around the bend because the snow’s so heavy. But I’ve got to try to keep the main roads open in case of fire conditions; rescue conditions, so we try to hit each street at least once,” Herman said.
As roads slowly cleared, two employees took an unconventional trip to work on a snowmobile – even giving CBS2’s McLogan a lift to village hall.
Following hours of heavy snow and dangerous, persistent gusty winds, a sole proprietor was given the all-clear to open for the evening.
“Last time we had a storm, we were mobbed,” said Ed Bryant of the Post Office Café. “So they’re coming out and we’re ready for them.”
Meanwhile, classes at Suffolk County Community College were canceled Thursday and bus service was shut down throughout the county, Bellone said. The county executive urged residents to check the county website for details.
Cuomo and Bellone said they hope they’ll be in good shape for Friday morning’s rush hour.
“The plow operators are going to be out there throughout the night doing everything they can to get things ready for tomorrow,” Bellone said.
Through the day, an army of snowplows scraped its way scraped their way down the Long Island Expressway Thursday — while other drivers struggled to stay off the frozen roads, CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported.
Gary Oliver of Roslyn rode his bike all the way to Port Washington.
“It’s transportation, not recreation,” Oliver said.
Amanda Mellow of Port Washington said her house was surrounded by “piles of snow – it’s really piles.”
In Commack, blowing snow led to near-whiteout conditions, and some roads looked like they hadn’t seen a plow all day.
“It’s just coming down too quickly,” said Eric Nezowitz of Commack. “They plow and within a half hour there’s another inch or two on the ground.”
“It’s pretty nasty — the people who don’t get the snow off the roof, then it all comes flying onto our cars,” said Joe Bacchi of Commack.
In other cases, it was the cars that went flying.
“There was ice and the back of the wheel caught it, and we spun out,” said Jordan Friedberg of Commack. “We had to dig out the side of the car — a little annoying.”
CBS2 spoke with a local principal in Commack, who said he thought another snow day is possible on Friday, and a school delay was almost guaranteed.
To the west, Nassau County had plenty of problems of its own. Snowplows were going up and down Jericho Turnpike all day long, but snow was still packed on the road and blacktop was not even visible.
Whipping winds and heavy snowfall made for a dangerous combination in Garden City Park all day. But Ronnie Rinaldi said he had to get out for groceries early in the midst of the snowstorm in case conditions got worse.
“They’re very bad,” Rinaldi said. “They’re doing a lot of plowing, but now, they have to put salt because as it gets colder, it’s only going to be a sheet of ice.”
Trucks were sliding on the snow-covered Jericho Turnpike. Plows were busy on the main roads and in parking lots, trying to keep up with the storm.
“We’re certainly out there battling the blizzard,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. “You know, certainly, road conditions are a concern — blizzard-like conditions, visibility conditions causing fender benders.”
Plow operator Carlos Moscoso said he cannot work fast enough.
He said as soon as he plowed, the snow covered his work up again in “maybe like a half hour” – forcing him to plow the same sections of pavement over and over again.
The same battle waged on for Mineola homeowners such as Christine Kelly, who enlisted her neighbor, Connor, to help clear her driveway.
She could not believe what a difference a day made.
“Yesterday was 60, was it? And today’s what – 20?” she said.
Kelly said she was struggling to keep up with the snow and would rather be in Florida.
It was all work before play at Dee McLaughlin’s house in Mineola. She and her sons, Gavin and Connor, had been out for hours clearing snow off their cars and driveway.
“So we clean up first, and then we try to do a big pile here for the kids and they go sled riding,” Dee McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said it was not easy to keep up with continuous snowfall.
“It’s extremely heavy. It’s – I think as you go like deeper into it, is where it’s heaviest. That’s why I said, let me come out now; see if it snows for a couple more hours it’ll be easier for me later. Because there’s only so much that me and the kids can do,” she said.
Out on the roads, Dennis Bowman said getting around by foot was the safest bet Thursday.
“Exercise — good for the heart,” said Bowman, who added that his long beard keeps him nice and warm.
And first responders from the Garden City Park Fire Department were kind enough to bring CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez’s news crew hot chocolate on Thursday. It was a pick-me-up from, and for. The essential workers who had to travel Thursday.
“The roads have been miserable, but luckily, we haven’t had too many calls yet,” said Garden City Fire Chief Sal Thomas. “So if it stays that way, we’ll be very happy.”
But countywide, not all first responders were so fortunate.
Earlier in the day, there were several accidents reported due to the storm — including an ambulance fire and jackknifed tractor-trailer that caused a multi-vehicle crash.
The multi-vehicle crash caused delays at Exit 36 for much of Thursday morning. Officials say the roadway reopened shortly after 11:30 a.m.
According officials 39 accidents had been reported as of noon on Thursday.
Several NICE bus routes were also suspended, and the Long Island Rail Road experienced delays.
The Long Island Rail Road said it will operate reduced service for the morning rush on Friday, running 135 morning rush hour trains – nine fewer than normal – as it recovers from the storm. Departing trains will generally leave within 10 minutes of one another and will make additional stops, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.
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Most Long Island schools called for a snow day before the first flakes, and towns warned commuters to stay home from work if they could, so plows can do their jobs.
Long Island also had the most power outages late Thursday afternoon. As of 5 p.m., PSEG Long Island said about 2,400 customers were without power – most of them in Suffolk County.