Island prepares for blizzard

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | With whiteout conditions expected tonight, town officials are urging Islanders to stay off the roads.

With snow expected to start accumulating here by dinner time tonight, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. is appealing to residents to stay home and get their vehicles off the roadways.

“Let the men plow first,” Mr. Card said. At the same time, he warned that there could be delays in clearing the snow “if we experience truck problems with our aging fleet.”

That’s something he warned the Town Board about during budget meetings in October and November.

But tight budget constraints and harsh weather set in even before the calendar registered that winter was here — and with a vengeance. A request for two new trucks was slashed from the 2014 budget, but Town Board members expected to be able to purchase at least one truck, offsetting the cost with money expected from the federal government.

Crews are expected to work through the night trying to stay ahead of the falling and drifting snow. Latest National Weather Service reports predict as much as 10 inches of snow on the ground and drifts that could be as high as two feet in some areas. Winds as high as 30 to 40 mph with even higher gusts in the area are forecasted to be blowing at the height of the overnight blizzard.

Warnings about snow accumulations and drifts were accompanied by anticipated frigid temperatures in the 20s with negative numbers resulting from the wind chill factor. The National Weather Service said that result in more snow and difficult travel conditions. A PSE&G statement said that could increase the possibility of ice coating power lines, resulting in their being downed by the excess weight.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty and Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, were in talks Thursday afternoon with PSEG about plans to bring a team to Shelter Island this afternoon in advance of the storm to tackle any disruption of electricity here. PSEG has hired extra crews to respond to what could be widespread power outages throughout Long Island if the worst of storm predictions hold true. This would be the first big test for the new power provider, since it took over its new responsibilities yesterday.

PSE&G customers are advised to register with the utility company before there’s any loss of power, according to Councilman Peter Reich. You will need your account number and can register at psegliny.com/page.cfm/CustomerService/ReportOutage/TextIn.

Typically when storms result in widespread power losses, the Center is the first area to see service restored. That’s because of its critical needs, housing the Police and Fire departments and Town Hall.

Mr.  Dougherty has been appealing to residents to stock up on food and medicines they may need and hunker down at home, keeping themselves and their pets safe for the duration of the storm.

He doesn’t expect to be opening emergency shelters, but that decision will be reached Friday after town officials can better judge the effects of the storm.

If it appears there are likely to be “prolonged periods of isolation” for residents as a result of power losses, police and firefighters would reach out to residents to provide emergency shelter, he said. While Shelter Island School is closed until Monday, it does have a new emergency generator installed several months ago, and the building could be opened to provide such housing.

A reorganization meeting of the Shelter Island Fire Commissioners that had been slated for Thursday night was rescheduled earlier today and will be held next Tuesday, January 7, at 7 p.m. at the Center Firehouse.

As for a Friday 2 p.m. Town Board reorganization meeting, unless power is out, Mr. Dougherty said he plans to go ahead with that session. That could change if there’s a significant loss of power on the Island, he said.

Updates can also be found on the town’s website at shelterislandtown.us.