Storm closes schools, knocks out power across NY

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2009 3:35 PM

The season's first major winter storm socked upstate New York with almost a foot of snow on Wednesday, causing one death, hundreds of school closings, accident-delayed commutes and power outages.

The National Weather Service said up to 10 inches fell before tapering off in early afternoon, with the highest totals in the Albany area, the Catskills, Mohawk Valley and Orange County in the Hudson Valley. The weather service said a wind gust of 67 mph was recorded at Dunkirk on Lake Erie.

A collision between a freight train and snow plow at a crossing in the Saratoga County town of Northumberland left one highway worker dead and another injured. Lt. Bill Seibert of the sheriff's department said James Shea, 68, who operated the truck's wing plow, was killed in the 8:45 a.m. crash. Driver Kerry Garnsey was in critical condition at Glens Falls Hospital. A spokesman for Canadian Pacific railroad said the two train operators were not hurt. Seibert didn't know if there was an automatic gate at the crossing.

Accidents also shut down stretches of an interstate highway in Albany and numerous other mishaps caused traffic backups along the Thruway system, mostly involving vehicles that slid off the highway and got stuck in the snow, a dispatcher said.

"We have 600 miles of roadway and we have storms from Buffalo all the way to the New York City area," said the Thruway Authority's Jeremy Lefort.

Utilities National Grid, NYSEG, Rochester Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, and Central Hudson Electric & Gas, a subsidiary of CH Energy Group Inc., reported a total of about 30,000 power outages Wednesday afternoon, down from around 55,000 earlier in the day. Most of the outages were concentrated in western and central counties.

Thousands of students from the Syracuse area to New York City's northern suburbs had a snow day or started classes two hours later than usual because of the snowy conditions.

Marc Timmons of Wilton in Saratoga County was shoveling his driveway after getting off work at a supermarket and didn't mind the chore at all.

"I love to play in the snow", said Timmons, a skier and Air Force veteran who spent years traveling around the world. He had advice for fellow New Yorkers who complain about the weather: "Man, move out of New York. The upstate region is not for you."

In the Albany suburb of Guilderland, Robinson's Hardware was already doing brisk business Wednesday morning on shovels and melting salts.

"It's nonstop," Will Healy said as he tended the register, snow blowing hard outside the window. "People wait to the last minute."

Three or more feet of snow was expected to accumulate between Wednesday and Saturday in the mainly rural snow belts east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Parts of eastern New York, including higher elevations in the Catskills and Adirondacks, were expected to get between 6 and 10 inches Wednesday.

Eastern New York could expect the snow to turn to sleet, rain and possibly freezing rain later in the day, the weather service said.

Forecasters said much of upstate New York could get sustained winds of 40-plus mph with gusts approaching 60 mph Wednesday evening and into Thursday.

Frank Figliomeni, owner of Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary in suburban Albany, said the sloppy weather had not slowed down sales.

"I think it's actually been a little busier than normal. This area's pretty hearty," Figliomeni said. "We get a lot of people who like this kind of weather, who thrive on it."

Just north of New York City, overnight snow in Westchester County turned into a rainstorm by the Wednesday morning rush-hour. In Scarsdale, lighted Christmas stars swayed from light poles in the driving wind and rain.

"I saw a little snow this morning on my car. But by the time I woke up, it was raining," said Tanya Yi, 19. "This is very hard rain, but I'm happy it's not snow."

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Associated Press writers Jessica M. Pasko, Michael Hill and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y., and Jim Fitzgerald in Scarsdale, N.Y., contributed to this report.