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Jan 28, 2015 11:52 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Historic Snowfall Blankets East End

Jan 28, 2015 12:19 PM

The strong nor’easter that hit the East End on Monday and Tuesday brought 60-mph winds and nearly 24 hours of blizzard conditions. It also left behind more than 2 feet of snow across much of the South Fork and as much as 30 inches in some places by the time it cleared out Tuesday night.

Unlike in Nassau County and New York City, which escaped the worst of the storm, on the East End it lived up to dire forecasts that warned of dangerous and historic levels of snowfall.

“While many parts of the region may feel like they dodged a bullet, that is not the case here in Suffolk County,” County Executive Steve Bellone said on Tuesday afternoon. “Suffolk took it right on the chin.”

By midday on Tuesday, as much as 28 inches had fallen in parts of Southampton and East Hampton towns. The deepest deposits seemed to be in central Southampton Town and western East Hampton Town: Between 22 and 28 inches fell in Hampton Bays, Noyac, Northwest and Springs, according to National Weather Service observations. Strong winds that topped out at 60 miles per hour in Westhampton early Tuesday morning, left drifts as high as 6 feet across some roadways.

Blowing wind and snow falling at rates of up to 3 inches an hour forced local and state officials to impose a travel ban across the South Fork overnight Monday and for most of the day Tuesday. Officials said that for the most part residents adhered to the restriction.

Even snowplows had to halt operations during the height of the storm in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, as blinding conditions prevented drivers from being able to follow the path of the roads they were plowing.

“This is the first time where we literally had to stop because we could not see more than 50 feet in front of us,” said Jeff Miller, who’s been working for the East Hampton Village Highway Department for more than 25 years. “At 2:30, we stopped. It was zero visibility. You were literally, like, ‘Holy shit, I’m in the other lane’—and you can’t figure it out, because you’re in the dark.”

But there were only a few brief power outages during the storm and a minimum of medical emergencies, according to officials, who said that, despite being hit hard by the storm, the impacts were generally manageable.

Three babies were born at Southampton Hospital during the height of the storm overnight Monday into Tuesday—two boys and a girl. Kristin and Aaron Marchese, one of those couples, were whisked to the hospital by Springs Fire Department ambulance, and Mrs. Marchese gave birth to an 8-pound-6-ounce boy, Cortland John Marchese.

Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said that crews worked through the night Monday into Tuesday, all day Tuesday and would be working all day on Wednesday and into the night again to get roads and public parking lots cleared.

“We’re seeing 32 to 33 inches in some places. Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Noyac got it the worst,” Mr. Gregor said. “Our biggest concern is that if we get another storm now, there’s nowhere to push the snow. We are asking for state and county assistance to clean out the hamlet centers. We had a few state assets come to help us last night with the big trucks.”

Motorists who ignored the travel ban slowed clearing efforts on Tuesday, Mr. Gregor said, as plows had to clear stranded cars from roadways and avoid vehicles belonging to residents who had dug out their driveways and then parked on the street. “Our guys did a great job. Most sectors have been done. We’re trying to widen things.”

Under the state of emergency declaration, the town also planned to clear all of the more than 150 unimproved roads in the town, an effort that might take into Thursday to complete.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that six people stayed overnight at the town’s designated shelter at the Senior Center in Hampton Bays. The fact that there were no widespread or extended power outages during the storm, she said, kept emergency calls to police and ambulances to a minimum.

As the storm approached on Monday, many East End residents scrambled to prepare for the onslaught.

“We sold a season’s worth of shovels in one day,” said Ted Jankowski, owner of the True Value hardware store in Westhampton Beach. “Even if we had a tractor-trailer loaded with shovels, we would have been able to sell them all.”

Mr. Jankowski said he was able to dig out the parking lot of his Montauk Highway store and open up by noon on Tuesday, but business by then was almost non-existent, something he attributed to people following travel warnings. The hardware store was able to replenish its depleted stock of shovels on Wednesday morning.

Although he felt the storm itself was similar to other recent weather events, Mr. Jankowski said the timing is what set this snowstorm apart.

“I guess just the fact that we hadn’t had anything till now made it stand out,” he said. “Nothing through November, December and all the way until the end of January, where we get this big snowfall. It was just a surprise, because it was the first real snowfall of the winter.”

Along with whipping snow into mountainous drifts, strong winds caused beach erosion and some minor flooding along low-lying areas of the bayfront. But severe flooding was avoided because the storm’s track meant that the strongest winds came from the north and not the east and southeast.

By midday Tuesday, many residents were digging out and embarking on snowy adventures, including surfing on the storm’s towering waves.

“We arrived at Mecox around noon, and it was some of the best waves I have seen out here,” said Kurt Rist of Southampton, who woke up at 6 a.m. to start digging out his driveway so he could get to the beach. “Waves were about 5 to 10 feet on the face, and fast, challenging barrels. Had a great session with just a few other friends. Big thank you to everyone working the snowplows during the storm.”

Evan Agnese, 13, of Sagaponack took to the farm fields of Sagaponack on cross-country skis Tuesday afternoon with his father, Michael. “This is the most snow I’ve ever seen,” he said.

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