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Storm marks 1st test of city’s new $21 million plowing fleet fit for residential streets

NEW YORK – The mayor has a message for residents in the outer boroughs who were frustrated by the city’s blizzard response last year: this time will be better.

Thursday’s monster storm was called “unusual” by Mayor Bill de Blasio as he relayed the news that in just two hours on Thursday morning, 6 inches of snow had fallen at La Guardia Airport.

That fast-accumulating snow recalls conditions from a blizzard that hit the region in January 2016, a storm that left residents snowed in for days in outer borough neighborhoods that hadn’t been plowed well – or at all.

“I understand why people get frustrated, for sure, and I can understand that they can feel like they’re forgotten,” de Blasio said. “No one’s gonna be forgotten.”

The mayor said this storm is different. This storm is the first real test of the city’s new, smaller fleet of snow-clearing vehicles that can better access residential streets.

“Those vehicles are out in force today,” he said. “We’re gonna see the impact they make. I think it’s gonna help us get back and running quicker.”

The city’s storm response, by the numbers:

  • 2,300 spreaders and plows
  • 6,300 miles of streets to be cleaned
  • 12-hour shifts for Department of Sanitation workers
  • $21 million worth of new, small snow-clearing vehicles for back roads

Still, the mayor called on residents to help with the effort.

“We need people to get off the streets,” de Blasio said. “I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t drive your car today.”

He said part of the response problem during last year’s blizzard, which dumped a historic 27.5 inches on Central Park, was maneuvering around vehicles that blocked the way of plows either by causing traffic or by breaking down in the harsh conditions.

“Sanitation needs you off the streets to do their jobs,” he said.

In past storms, neighborhoods like Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City and Maspeth along with Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights had problems emerging from beneath inches of snow. The mayor said he spoke with City Council members representing those districts and said they are “seeing real results from sanitation this time.”

As of 11 a.m., crews had not made it to every street but a “piece of equipment (is) in every single neighborhood,” Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said.

And workers will continue to plow – then plow again, she added. The intensity and concentration of the storm is such that repetition will be key.

“Even if we got there three hours ago, you may have 6 inches of snow on your block,” Garcia said.

She anticipates a “relatively normal commute” on Friday, “but it will be cold and there will be snow out there.”

Alternate side parking was suspended Thursday and will continue to be suspended through at least Saturday, the mayor said.

As for city schools, which were closed on Thursday, de Blasio said parents should “plan on school being opened tomorrow,” though no formal decision had yet been made.

Snow fall had slowed significantly by 1 p.m. in the five boroughs, with forecasters saying the main body of the storm has passed. A winter storm warning is effect for the city until 6 p.m., when the snow is expected to stop entirely.

That, however, is not the case on Long Island, where a blizzard warning is in effect until 6 p.m. and as much as 16 inches of snow is expected in Nassau and Suffolk counties before the storm leaves the island.

“Once again, Nassau, Suffolk, Long Island will bear the brunt of the storm. I don’t know what Nassau-Suffolk did to offend Mother Nature but they did something somewhere along the way because it seems Mother Nature always packs an especially potent punch” for them,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo joked during a news conference.

Temperatures will continue to drop throughout the rest of the day, creating a treacherous evening commute with slippery roads.

The snow should melt naturally over the weekend with the help of temperatures forecast to reach highs in the low 40s.