A blizzard shaping up to be much worse than what had been predicted just 24 hours ago has Suffolk County on lockdown today. Temperatures are dropping into the 20s, with bands of heavy snow moving through the area bringing snowfall rates of one to three inches per hour and howling winds.
County Executive Steve Bellone has declared a state of emergency in Suffolk. Schools, government offices, courts, banks and businesses all closed their doors, most before the storm had arrived.
Forecasters say the region will see up to 16 inches of accumulations before the storm moves past. Thunder is accompanying the heavy bands of snow, the National Weather Service said in a special weather statement issued at 11:32 a.m. A blizzard warning remains in effect through 6 p.m.
PSEG-LI has been reporting widespread outages across the North Fork, with at one point about 10,000 customers reportedly affected in the Town of Southold. As of publication time, 868 remained without power in Southold Town, the bulk being in the hamlet of Southold. Only a handful of customers in Riverhead Town have been affected, most of them in Aquebogue, according to the utility’s outage center. (To report an outage or downed lines call 1-800-490-0075 or at the company’s mobile-friendly outage center.)
Greenport Village has so far had one minor outage, four homes on Clark Street, Mayor George Hubbard said.
Accumulating and blowing snow, with white-out or near white-out conditions, have made travel extremely dangerous. Officials are warning residents to avoid all but essential travel. White-out conditions
Motorists venturing out are becoming stuck in the snow, despite having all-wheel or four-wheel drive, Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson said.
“If you get stuck you will have to call a tow truck,” Woodson said. “Our trucks are not pulling stuck vehicles out.”
Southold Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando said people seem to be cooperating about staying off the roads in Southold.
Woodson is operating a plow truck, one of about 32 plows clearing Riverhead town roads in this storm. Southold Highway Department has 40 trucks on the road, Orlando said.
Crews started out early this morning salting and sanding the roads in both towns. They began plowing once there was enough snow to push, between 8:30 and 9:30 this morning.
Woodson said his crews will concentrate on the principal town roads first.
“About three-quarters of the way through the storm, we’ll begin plowing the developments. But right now we need to concentrate on keeping the main roads open,” he said.
Greenport Village road crews are also out plowing, Hubbard said. The village has nine trucks on the road, he said.
“People have been very cooperative about moving their cars off the streets,” Hubbard said. “We did have to issue a few tickets this morning, but not too many.”
State DOT is responsible for Route 25 and Suffolk County DPW is responsible for county roads, such as Route 58, Route 48, Route 105 and others.
Local fire departments have stand-by crews in their headquarters so that they can respond to fires and medical emergencies. Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps has stand-by crews at both of its stations.
Both Peconic Bay Medical Center and Eastern Long Island Hospital are open for business. The hospitals have emergency plans in place to transport and accommodate staff as needed. Peconic Bay closed all outpatient offices today because of the storm. Both hospitals handled elective surgery cases this morning. The operating rooms remain open for emergencies.
“Our facilities team is doing a great job keeping the grounds around the hospital clear and safe,” said PBMC vice president Samantha Vigliotta.
“We’re up and operating,” Eastern Long Island Hospital president and CEO Paul Connor said.
“We pick up our employees and we accommodate them overnight as needed,” Connor said.
He added that he expected to have to shift to emergency generators before this storm is over. “The power has been blinking on and off here,” he said.
“It’s nasty out there.”
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell called the storm conditions “a difficult mess,” but has not risen to the level of an emergency. He said the town is activating emergency shelter volunteers in case shelters need to be opened in the event outages extend beyond the storm itself.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter this morning declared a “winter storm event,” prohibiting parking on any road between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.”
“Stay home. People should stay off the roads. Unless you have an emergency there is absolutely no reason to be out in this storm,” Walter said.