NEW YORK (AP) — With a frigid, windy snowstorm approaching, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered three major highways in New York, stretching from Long Island to Albany, to close overnight Thursday.
The governor's unusual decision came as New York City and its northern suburbs were under a winter storm warning and Long Island was under a blizzard warning, with wind gusts up to 45 mph and up to 10 inches of snow predicted for Thursday and Friday.
The National Weather Service said up to 9 inches could hit the city, and areas from Buffalo to Albany were expecting up to 14 inches.
"This is nothing to be trifled with," Cuomo said, declaring a state of emergency statewide. "People should seriously consider staying in their homes."
As of late Thursday night, the weather service said 18 inches of snow had fallen in Greece and 13 inches in Webster, both near Rochester, but only a couple of inches had fallen in New York City and on Long Island.
The storm came in a day after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, and supervising the cleanup could be his first big test. At a news conference Thursday, he said he was "focused like a laser on protecting this city."
"It would be nice to have a nice calm first day but we have snow on our mind," he said.
The governor ordered the Long Island Expressway, Interstate 84 in the Hudson Valley and the state Thruway south of Albany closed to all traffic at midnight. He ordered I-84 closed to commercial traffic at 5 p.m.
Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport experienced hundreds of delays and cancellations on Thursday and were bracing for even more.
The New York City Office of Emergency Management issued a hazardous travel advisory into Friday, warning that roads will likely be icy and snow will continue to drift.
"Residents should drive slowly, monitor weather and traffic, use major streets or highways, and keep the name and number of at least one local towing service," OEM said in a statement.
Cuomo said the highways should reopen at 5 a.m. Friday, but a final decision would be made in the hour before then.
A weather service forecaster said cold temperatures would be as significant as the snowfall, with wind chills as low as 15 degrees below zero on Friday.
Outreach teams were searching New York City streets for homeless people at risk of freezing to death. The Department of Homeless Services guarantees shelter when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below.
"It's a two-story storm," said meteorologist Joseph Pollina. "The snow and the cold." He said a high of 15 was predicted for Friday in New York City, which would make it the coldest day there since Jan. 10, 2004.
Cuomo said frigid temperatures can cause "all types of mayhem and chaos." De Blasio urged New Yorkers to "stay indoors to the maximum extent possible." He said extra 911 dispatchers and police and fire units would be available. And he urged New Yorkers to "keep an eye out for your neighbors."