Governor Declares State of Emergency As Blizzard Blows Into New York
NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a State of Emergency in New York Friday afternoon as a blizzard bore down on the region.
The storm — dubbed Winter Storm Nemo by the Weather Channel — brought wind gusts of nearly 40 miles per hour, along with transit suspensions and delays, as it started blanketing the city in what was predicted to be up to 10 inches or more of snow.
"This is a serious, severe storm," Cuomo told reporters Friday afternoon, but he added that he was not expecting as much damage as the state saw during Hurricane Sandy last fall. "We've been through worse than what we're talking about, so it's all relative."
The blizzard began picking up about 4 p.m. and was forecast to reach its peak between Friday evening and about 2 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said.
Forecasters expected the highest snowfall totals in The Bronx, which could see up to a foot of accumulation, while Staten Island and Brooklyn were slated for lower amounts of 7 to 8 inches, with Manhattan and Queens falling somewhere in the middle, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Friday night.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who issued a severe weather advisory on Thursday, urged the public to avoid all unnecessary driving during the storm and to leave work early.
"What would be great is if you left work early today, got home, parked your car in a legal parking place, and if you have to go around, use mass transit," Bloomberg said in a Friday afternoon press conference. "What we don't want are cars getting stuck in the middle of the road. That keeps us from plowing and just — pardon the pun — snowballs the problem."
For the first time, New Yorkers can track the city's army of snowplows in real-time on NYC.gov with an app called PlowNYC that went live Thursday afternoon.
As plows trundle through city streets, Bloomberg said residents should "cook a meal, stay home, read a good book, watch a movie," until the storm passes Saturday.
"My biggest concern is that people go out, walk, slip, fall into traffic…. Low visibility and high winds, someone turns a corner in a car and doesn't see a pedestrian."
State officials reiterated Bloomberg's call for residents to stay home.
"We're taking this storm very seriously and you should take this storm very seriously. This is a dangerous storm with a lot of blowing snow and very significant winds that will make travel on Friday night into Saturday morning almost impossible," Jerome Hauer, commissioner of the state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
As flakes began to fall thick and fast over the city late Friday afternoon, Cuomo joined many New Yorkers in joking about the winter storm's name.
"You've heard of 'Finding Nemo,'" the governor said. "It seems like Nemo has found us."
MAYOR WARNS OF 'MODERATE' COASTAL FLOODING
The blizzard w forecast to cause storm surges of 3 to 5 feet — far lower than the 14-foot peak seen during Hurricane Sandy, but enough to cause "moderate...flooding this evening" in coastal areas still recovering from last fall's superstorm. Flooding was most likely to occur during high tide: 7 p.m. near the Battery in Manhattan, and several hours later in The Bronx and Queens.
"Hopefully it won't be anything drastic. And it's certainly not going to be a Hurricane Sandy," Bloomberg said. "It's likely to produce the kind of coastal flooding that can be expected in these areas during such storms and people know how to deal with it."
Nevertheless, the FDNY has "pre-positioned...water-borne rescue units in low-lying areas," added a firefighter to each engine unit, and put 100 more ambulances on the street, and the NYPD has stepped up patrols in potential flood zones.
TRANSIT DELAYS, SUSPENSIONS
Alternate-side parking was suspended citywide through Sunday. Meter rules, in effect Friday, were suspended for Saturday.
The mayor and the MTA also warned of potential disruptions and delays on city subways and buses.
Amtrak trains to Boston were suspended Friday afternoon, and the MTA announced that Metro-North Railroad would shut down at 10 p.m. Flights were grounded at the city's airports as well.
The MTA has put chains on bus wheels, and it is using shorter buses on certain routes to prevent buses from getting stuck.
The MTA also dispatched a "fleet of snow and ice-busting equipment designed to keep outdoor tracks and third rails clear of snow and ice," including "super-powered snow throwers," jet-powered snow-blowers and specially built de-icing cars.
Due to expected high winds, the Staten Island Ferry was operating on a modified schedule, Bloomberg said.
private bus carriers were also canceling certain routes to and from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
The Port Authority has deployed more staff on longer shifts at all of its facilities, officials said. It has gathered special equipment to clear snow and ice including melters that can melt 500 tons of snow in 60 minutes, as well as a "jet engine plow" to clear train tracks, among other gear.
SCHOOLS, GOVERNMENT OFFICES, SUPPLIES AND FUEL
Schools were following their normal schedules Friday, Bloomberg and the Department of Education said, but after-school programs and Saturday activities were canceled.
All city government offices were also open Friday, the mayor's office said, and non-essential workers were not permitted to leave work early — despite Bloomberg's request that workers across the city head home before 5 p.m.
New Yorkers were advised to stock up on supplies, including medicine, because of potential power outages and transportation difficulties during the first major storm of the year. Fuel, however, was not in short supply.
"There is no reason to rush for the gas station," Bloomberg said. "The supplies are very adequate."
As snow spread across the city Friday afternoon, the 9/11 Memorial shut down just before 3 p.m. but expected to reopen on Saturday, representatives said.
AGENCIES GIRD FOR BLIZZARD
The city's Sanitation Department has braced for the coming storm by amassing more than 250,000 tons of salt, 350 salt spreaders and plows and 1,800 trucks, ready to hit the road.
The NYPD has also put an additional 95 tow trucks on the street to help clear any cars stuck in the snow.
The city's Department of Homeless Services has doubled its outreach, the mayor said, and Health and Human Services was delivering extra meals to seniors in case the agency cannot travel the roads Saturday.
Anyone who sees a homeless person sleeping outdoors is asked to call 311. The hotline is also accepting text-messages for storm-related issues.
"If you text about a particular street, a 311 representative will make sure the info is passed along," Bloomberg said.
The storm, which is the product of two separate storm systems on a collision course from two different directions, is expected to lash the city with winds as high as 60 mph, according to a National Weather Service spokesman.
The Department of Buildings has asked property owners and contractors to prepare for heavy snowfall and gusts of high wind by securing constructions sites and buildings.
"My hope is that, by mid-morning tomorrow, all the streets will have been plowed once or twice. It just depends on when the snow starts and when the snow ends," Bloomberg said. "We are lucky in that it’s happening on a Friday night. Saturday morning, you typically have a lot less traffic, so it will keep the streets clear for the plows and make that a lot easier.... I sort of wish the snow had come a little bit later, but we’ll see.”
For more information about the forecast in your neighborhood, check out DNAinfo's weather page.