Snow and wind whip through Riverhead area

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The east end of Reeves Avenue was plowed 3 hours before this photo was taken.

Sure, the hardware stores and supermarkets were crowded in the run-up to this week’s major snow storm, but another Riverhead business — Michael’s Wines and Liquors on East Main Street — also reported an uptick in sales Tuesday.

Forecasts of up to 15 inches of snow — beginning Tuesday night and running into Wednesday — caused many people to stock up on their preferred spirits, lest they get trapped indoors without any, um, escape, said Michael’s employee Joe Rizzo.

“It will be slow today, but we always do the big business the night before,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “If [customers] drink wine they’re coming in to get their wine. If they drink vodka they’re coming in for their vodka.”

But while some residents were enjoying their snow days at home, Riverhead Town highway crews were on duty at 9 p.m. Tuesday and began manning the plows at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. The roads were all passable by midday and no serious accidents were reported as the storm started to taper off in the afternoon.

“It was snowing so hard it made the plowing job extra slow with the wind blowing,” said Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson, who judged this storm more difficult to clean up than the slower-moving Dec. 26 blizzard. “We got more snow in a shorter period of time,” he said.

Mr. Woodson asked residents to be patient with his crews as they worked to clear the roads; he couldn’t speculate as to when plowing would be finished.

“Everything is open, but in order to keep them open you’ve got to check every hour,” he said.

He added the highway department stayed within its $175,000 snow removal budget last year and is in good financial shape for 2011, despite this week’s storm, which had dumped some nine inches of snow near Flanders Bay by 6 a.m. Wednesday and more than 15 inches in other areas in and around Riverhead Town by 1 p.m.

A storm warning remained in effect until noon Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Upton, and a bit more snow was expected on Eastern Long Island, with lower total accumulations on the South Fork.

Although the weather service counted nine inches near Flanders Bay, Riverhead residents were reporting that at least a foot of snow had built up near their homes before noon. Some residents reported totals upwards of 15 inches.

Thirteen inches were reported to have fallen in Shoreham as of noon, according to the weather service.

By about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, sunshine began to break through the gloom, although brisk winds continued to blow fallen snow. A high of 30 degrees was predicted for Thursday, and temperatures were not expected to rise above freezing again until Sunday.

No serious accidents were reported, though police arrested Jonas Alvarez, 39, of Horton Avenue in Riverhead on DWI charges about 6:15 a.m. Wednesday — in the thick of the storm — after he was observed driving a 1992 Chevy southbound in the northbound lanes of Route 105 near Hubbard Avenue, officials said.

Route 105 is split by a median at that point in the road, so traffic cannot cross into the opposite lane without falling into a ditch, meaning that Mr. Alvarez must have misdirected his car at an earlier point. He’s facing driving while intoxicated and reckless driving charges, Riverhead Police said.

Riverhead schools were closed, and Superintendent Nancy Carney said officials had not yet decided whether or not to open Thursday.

Tanger Outlets were also closed, but area supermarkets remained open.

Customers at the Wading River King Kullen were stocking up Tuesday afternoon before the storm hit, where the parking lot was unusually full for a weekday.

“The meat section is empty and they were stocking the milk,” said Suzanne Gomez of Wading River.

In addition to milk, bread and eggs, King Kullen customers were grabbing salt, shovels and firewood while they had the chance.

“I’m going to go the hardware store and get some firewood,” said Ken Masarovich of Ridge. “We’re going to wait it out. I’ll start shoveling Thursday.”

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead had instituted its emergency response system, hospital president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said Tuesday. Dorms were set up for staff who were expected to work 12-hour shifts and the hospital sent out four-wheel drive vehicles to pick up employees.

Suffolk County bus service was suspended Wednesday, as was Long Island Rail Road service on the Montauk line and between Greenport and Ronkonkoma.

Fewer than five power outages were reported by the Long Island Power Authority in Riverhead, though multiple outages were reported farther east on the North Fork.

Riverhead Town Hall opened at 11 a.m.

Supervisor Sean Walter issued a release Wednesday morning saying that although all main roads in town were passable, many secondary roads have yet to be plowed. Mr. Woodson said by noon that all roads were passable.

“Winds will continue and will cause major drifting especially on our north-south roads or any roads next to open spaces,” Mr. Walter had said. “If you must leave your business or residence proceed with extreme caution, use main roads, reduce your driving speed and have an emergency travel kit with you, including a cell phone.”

And what about heating fuel?

Bob Ghosio, general manager of the Southold-based fuel company Burt’s Reliable, said his company received about 200 calls for oil refills in the two days preceding the storm, though the phones were quiet Wednesday.

He said anyone who needed fuel shouldn’t worry, as he had six trucks on the road ready to refill home oil tanks.
“We actually treat our company as if we were an emergency service,” he said. “You can’t take a day off or people start running out of oil.”

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