First storm of '14 packs a punch.
New York City public schools were closed Friday after up to 7 inches of snow fell by morning in the first snowstorm of the winter - and the first test of new Mayor Bill de Blasio hours after he was sworn in.
"It would have been nice to have a calm first day, but we have snow on our mind, and we are focused like a laser on protecting this city and getting everyone ready," de Blasio said Thursday about the snow barreling toward the city.
Newly appointed Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina made the decision to call a snow day for 1.1 million students shortly before 5 a.m.
The snowstorm came about three years after de Blasio criticized predecessor Michael Bloomberg for failing to lead a quick cleanup in all parts of the city. Days passed before de Blasio's Brooklyn block was cleared.
"I intend to be on top of the action," the new mayor vowed.
With the frigid, windy storm approaching from upstate New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways extending from Long Island to Albany closed overnight Thursday. The Thruway between Albany and the Bronx reopened for passenger vehicles at 5 a.m. Friday and was scheduled to reopen to commercial vehicles at 8 a.m. The Long Island Expressway was set to reopen at 8 a.m. Interstate 84 between the Pennsylvania and Connecticut borders also were to remain closed to commercial and passenger vehicles until 8 a.m.
The governor's unusual decision came as New York City and its northern suburbs were under a winter storm warning and Long Island was under a blizzard warning, with wind gusts up to 45 mph and up 10 inches of snow predicted by the time the storm ends sometime between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friday.
The National Weather Service said 8 to 10 inches of snow could hit the city, and areas from Buffalo to Albany were expecting up to 14.
Two Rochester-area communities already had accumulated more than a foot of snow by late Thursday. The weather service said Greece had 18 inches and Webster had 13. About 5 inches had fallen in Central Park by 4 a.m. and as much as 7 inches in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn. Parts of Long Island got 7.3 inches by early Friday.
"This is nothing to be trifled with," Cuomo said, declaring a state of emergency statewide. "People should seriously consider staying in their homes."
The New York City Office of Emergency Management issued a hazardous travel advisory into Friday, warning that roads likely would be icy and snow would continue to drift.
"Residents should drive slowly, monitor weather and traffic, use major streets or highways, and keep the name and number of at least one local towing service," OEM said in a statement.
A weather service forecaster said cold temperatures would be as significant as the snowfall because of wind chills. The agency said wind chills would remain below zero throughout the day.
Outreach teams were searching New York City streets for homeless people at risk of freezing to death. The Department of Homeless Services guarantees shelter when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below.
"It's a two-story storm," said meteorologist Joseph Pollina. "The snow and the cold." He said a high of 15 was predicted for Friday in New York City, which would make it the coldest day there since Jan. 10, 2004.
Meanwhile, transportation agencies and utilities prepared to tussle with the weather.
The Long Island Rail Road's alcohol-spraying train, which fights freezing on switches, was loaded up, and the subway system's outdoor platforms were salted. Chains were to be put on city buses by Friday morning so they would not get stuck in drifts.
De Blasio said 1,700 plows and 450 salt spreaders would be on the streets. He did not declare a snow emergency.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has "people ready if needed to dig out switches," said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. Also, "We have turned on switch heaters, which are like electric blankets for the track."
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said equipment in place at airports and bridges included melters that can liquefy snow.
Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport experienced hundreds of delays and cancellations on Thursday and were ready for even more on Friday.
Con Ed spokesman Sidney Alvarez said the electric utility was expecting the snowfall to be powdery, rather than wet and heavy. "But with any type of snow you're looking at extra weight on branches that can snap and bring power lines down."
PSEG Long Island, which just took over responsibility for the island's electric grid on Wednesday, said the wind would add to the challenge of keeping the power on.
"We're really worried about the gusts," said spokesman Paul Rosengren. "When they're 40-50 mph you have a danger of trees or limbs coming down on the power lines."
Jamesie Killeen, walking his dog Nutley in the Bronx, said he heard a foot of snow could fall, but decided to be optimistic.
"Maybe this will be it for the year," he said.