Snowstorm causes traffic nightmare, downs trees in New York area

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The intensity of the first snowstorm of the season was still being felt during the Friday morning commute.  While the snow was ending, the wind picked up and heavy rain was falling impacting commuters and motorists.

At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, buses were rolling into the station after hundreds were stranded and packed like sardines. Portions of the building were closed due to dangerous conditions.

Port Authority officials recommend NJ Transit bus users switch to rail service for Friday's commute.

Several inches of snow slowed the Thursday evening commute to a crawl, and in some cases, a complete stop for up to 8 hours.

Cold Canadian air from the north and moisture from the south bolstered the snowfall. The wet snow and wind gusts downed numerous tree branches throughout the city and metro area.

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Police advised people to stay indoors and avoid the roads, if possible. A multi-vehicle accident on the George Washington Bridge added to the traffic nightmare. Traffic on the Palisades Interstate Parkway near Orangetown, New York, was backed up for hours. And the nasty mix of snow, sleet, and gusty winds led to a multi-car crash in Nassau County.

"Downed trees, closed bridges leading to stopped traffic, and more snowfall than forecasted made for challenging conditions today but our salt spreaders and plows will continue working through the night to address snow/ice," the Sanitation Department tweeted.

In response to a request for further comment, the Sanitation Department said in a statement that it has to deploy snow plows because of the heavier-than-expected snowfall.

"Complicating issues was the fact that several bridges were closed and traffic, particularly in the Bronx, upper Manhattan and on Staten Island, came to a halt with our snow clearing equipment stuck within," the department said in a statement.

The storm downed at least 147 trees and 300 limbs across New York City; 76 of those trees fell in Manhattan, according to the Emergency Management Department.

A tree limb fell on a police officer on East 35th Street and 2nd Avenue at about 5:20 p.m., the NYPD said. The cop was conscious and alert at Bellevue Hospital Center.

The city's parks were not closed but the Parks Department said that "out of an abundance of caution, we ask people not to enter them during the storm." The forestry team is set to inspect trees early Friday morning.

"First storm of the year hit hard and right at rush hour, downing trees and causing delays. @NYCSanitation plows and salt spreaders are making progress as traffic eases. They'll be out all night to get roads clear before the AM commute," Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. "Even with increasing temperatures, I continue to urge all New Yorkers to exercise extreme caution if you have to travel tonight."

New Jersey Transit buses had trouble getting to the upper levels of the Port Authority Bus Terminal because of the snow and ice, officials said.

Scattered delays affected the Long Island Rail Road, which was suspended for a time between Jamaica Station and Atlantic Terminal. New Jersey Transit reported 30- to 60-minute system-wide delays.

Roads in several Central New Jersey towns were gridlocked. Westfield and Scotch Plains roads turned into parking lots as deteriorating conditions and a large number of drivers trying to get home hit the streets at the same time. The New Jersey State Police responded to hundreds of traffic accidents on the state's highways.

Flight delays of up to an hour were reported at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports. Many schools closed early and put people on the roads as the brunt of the storm hit the region and plows could clear roads and spread salt and sand.

Some forecasts on Wednesday predicted about an inch of slushy snow for New York City. Yet by Thursday evening, reports had come in of 4 inches in parts of Brooklyn, 4.6 inches on the Upper West Side, 5 inches in Rego Park, Queens, and 6 inches in Central Park, according to the National Weather Service.

With the Associated Press.