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Snowstorms blast Northeast; this time, New York is ready

Fearing another major blizzard, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took several measures, including placing a GPS on every snowplow. 'Much better,' notes one New Yorker.

January 13, 2011|By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York — If New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had used an adage as he perused weather reports about a reprise of a post-Christmas blizzard heading his way, it might have been this: Snow me once, shame on you. Snow me twice, shame on me.

In an effort to redeem himself and his administration for underperforming during the last major storm that left thousands of New Yorkers stranded in unplowed neighborhoods, Bloomberg made sure the city was ready for Mother Nature to let loose. When she finally did overnight, it was kind of a bust — only 9.1 inches of the white and fluffy stuff had built up on Central Park by 9 a.m. Wednesday compared with almost 2 feet that blanketed the park in the storm after Christmas.

But even before the first snowflake fell, the mayor was on the case: He issued a newly created "weather emergency" warning to New Yorkers to keep their cars out of the way of sanitation workers driving their trucks with big plows attached to the fronts. All 1,700 of the snowplows were out in force overnight, with drivers racking up overtime. In addition, an army of other city workers were positioned to salt streets and shovel sidewalks.

The mayor reported at a news conference Wednesday that of the city's 6,000 streets, all the primary ones and nearly 75% of the secondary roads had been plowed at least once.

"Much better," said Alma Lester, a Queens resident who had easily made her commute by subway to her midtown Manhattan office. "The mayor and his people did a much, much better job this time around.

"He didn't forget about us folks in the outer boroughs this time," she said. "You know. The way he did last time."

But while New York City was spared a whiteout, Boston, central Connecticut and parts of eastern Long Island and New Jersey were slammed with blizzard conditions that had moved over from the Plains and up from the Southeast. The winter storm disrupted air and train traffic in the Northeast, halting it altogether between Boston and New York most of Wednesday morning.

In Atlanta, like much of the Southeast, investing in snowplows is not exactly a priority, and the time-honored snow response plan has mostly been to expect a quick melting. But that strategy hit a snag this week as snow and ice dumped over the last weekend lingered through Wednesday amid persistent freezing temperatures.

Much of Atlanta remained uncharacteristically quiet and icy as most schools and many businesses and government offices closed for a third straight day, and many side streets remained encased in thick, slippery sheets of ice.

State transportation officials said they had laid enough gravel, salt and ice to make all of the interstates "passable" in the area, but officials warned of "treacherous conditions."

In New York, the day turned out to be mostly sunny and not as cold as expected. All the buildup before the storm sent people out early to shovel their sidewalks and count the city plows passing by. The mayor, who Tuesday was on the airwaves trying to lower expectations about the morning commute, seemed back to his old, confident self Wednesday as he bragged about the city's snow-fighting forces.

Bloomberg described all the new efforts put in place since Christmas, including a GPS tracking technology on every plow. He noted that trains and buses were running on regular schedules; he also praised school custodians for clearing the snow before the children arrived.

The no-nonsense mayor made a decision at 5 a.m. that all public schools were to remain open. (New York schools have only been closed eight times for snow since 1978, the mayor noted, explaining, "Education is our No. 1 priority.")

"I know kids would like the snow day off," the 68-year-old mayor said with a smirk, "but on the other hand it's very difficult for a lot of parents if there is a snow day."

Earlier Wednesday, the mayor's team also had demonstrated for reporters a new "snow scout" program in which city workers are deployed to capture street conditions on video that is fed back to a central emergency headquarters in Brooklyn and, if need be, right into the mayor's personal iPad.

Bloomberg, a businessman who became a billionaire before he got into politics, made it clear: He wasn't about to get plowed under again by criticism that he wasn't in command during a crisis or that his city wasn't on alert for a storm, any storm:

"Sometimes you get a curveball you weren't ready for," he said, "and you try to get ready for that curveball again."

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard Fausset in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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