Cuomo: LIE, parkways may be closed before blizzard hits LI

Photo credit: James Carbone | Another band of heavy snow falls on the eastbound service road of the LIE in Dix Hills, making driving conditions treacherous. (Dec. 17, 2013)

January 1, 2014 

The Long Island Expressway and state parkways may be closed Thursday afternoon before a threatened blizzard hits during the evening commute that could cause whiteout conditions, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.

"We don't want people in a situation where they have used their vehicles to commute in the morning and now they can't get home because the roadways are closed," Cuomo said in a 4 p.m. phone conference with reporters.

"Think about mass transit," he advised Long Islanders.

Joe Williams, the Suffolk County commissioner of fire, rescue and emergency services, said state and local officials will make closure decisions this morning, based on early morning forecasts. 

Closures are being considered as the state faces two predicted storms taxing limited resources — one that may dump about a foot of snow upstate and another that may unload 10 inches on the Island. 

During last February's massive snowstorm, major roadways remained open, Cuomo said, and "that turned out to be more problematic." 

In Nassau, County Executive Edward Mangano said he's trying to keep county roads open. Nassau crews were to start pretreating county roadways by 2:30 a.m. Thursday. 

"Nassau County's workers will be out in force with plows and sanders to ensure county roadways remain open for travel," Mangano said.

The decision on whether to close highway service roads will be made based on conditions, officials said. 

The Long Island Rail Road has no plans to add service because officials believe many people will stay home, spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. The LIRR would only suspend service if the third rail was buried by snow — usually between 15 and 18 inches, she said.

NICE expects to operate its normal weekday schedule Thursday, said Andy Kraus, NICE spokesman. However, changes to bus routes and schedules may be considered based on road conditions and safety, he added.

Snow plows and other heavy equipment have been predeployed around the state, but final decisions on where they go won't be made until hard-hit areas are identified, Cuomo said. 

The National Weather Service, which issued a blizzard warning, said 1 inch of snow may fall by the morning rush hour.

But the storm is forecast to strengthen at about 6 p.m., with visibility of less than a quarter-mile and gusty winds that whip around vast amounts of powdery snow, said meteorologist David Stark at the service's Upton office.

Another 7 to 9 inches is expected to be dumped on the Island through the night and taper off Friday morning, the service said.

Anyone outdoors Thursday night and into the morning may experience temperatures that will feel like 10 degrees below zero, Stark said. That's caused by temperatures dropping to the low teens and winds gusting up to 45 mph, a combination that can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, he said.

Authorities have advised people to avoid travel and bring pets indoors. Hempstead Town is to open 14 warming centers Thursday and North Hempstead Town three. Suffolk police issued reminders to officers to help get the homeless to social services agencies.

Maureen's Haven Homeless Outreach in Riverhead had stretched budget and space to take up to 30 people, but ended up with 35 storm "guests" at the daily designated shelter. 

Bob Waffner, who usually winters in the woods of Medford, said he felt "peace of mind" after getting in. 

Without four walls, he'd have to hunker down in a tarp-covered tent warmed by several Sterno cans, he said, but his lifelong blood-clotting illness has taken a toll on how well he handles the cold. 

"I'm used to outdoors, but no more," Waffner, 52, a former paramedic, said from the First Presbyterian Church in Southold, the designated shelter on Wednesdays. 

Emergency crews, from the LIRR to PSEG-Long Island utility workers, braced for their first major snow test since last February's storm. A lack of planning and snowfalls past 17 inches led to car-clogged roads that remained unplowed for more than a week in some areas of Suffolk. 

This time, supplies, including extra utility poles, are in stock, and contractors with heavy equipment notified, authorities said. 

West Hempstead school officials announced on the district's website that schools would be closed Thursday due to the storm. Check for the latest delays and cancellations. Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors' Association, said about 100 heavy construction vehicles are on standby, at the request of state transportation officials.

But even if government and private resources work well during the blizzard, the economic slowdown has slashed the number of people and heavy vehicles that are around to help in emergencies, Herbst said.

Firms have downsized as governments slashed budgets for capital improvements and road repairs, he said.

"We can't respond in the same manner that we did prior the recession," he said. "That's a long-term concern."

The blizzard warning is in effect from 6 p.m. Thursday to 1 p.m. Friday. During high tides, shoreline flooding is possible, the weather service said.

Temperatures will swing back to the low 20s on Saturday, but then on Sunday, it may be as warm as 40 degrees, Stark said. That will cause a "significant melt" of snow, he said.

With Scott Eidler and staff 

LI snow preparations

  • 12,000 tons of salt and 115 sanders/trucks on hand in Nassau County
  • Heavy construction vehicles on standby from members of the Long Island Contractors' Association
  • Antifreeze trains ready to run on LIRR tracks
  • Warming centers opening in towns, including Hempstead and North Hempstead
  • Supplies, including replacement transformers and utility poles, in stock at PSEG-Long Island
  • Generator testing at PSEG-Long Island locations
  • Activation of State Emergency Operations Center at 10 a.m.

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