Mother Nature unequivocally foiled any notion that the winter of 2006 would be remembered as a mild one, besieging the Eastern seaboard over the weekend with 24 hours of relentless snowfall that broke records in the Big Apple and beyond.
The nor’easter rolled in to Queens slowly Saturday afternoon and by the time it cleared Sunday night, flights out of the airports had been crippled, train travelers stranded and residents left with the task of digging out from over two feet of the white stuff.
Despite the challenges, some locals adopted a positive outlook.
“I like it better than the summer,” said Pepe Rosario, of Woodhaven. Though he seldom had to contend with snow in his native Puerto Rico, Rosario was unfazed, even cheerful, as he swept clean his son’s car in Richmond Hill.
The National Weather Service reported that 26.9 inches of snow fell in Central Park, beating out the blizzards of 1947, 1969 and 1996 as the most snowfall in the city since record-keeping began in 1869.
In Queens, the accumulations varied, from 16.7 inches at Kennedy Airport, to 26 inches in Astoria. Flushing recorded 19.9 inches and 19.5 inches were measured in Richmond Hill.
Queens residents were spared having to battle the storm during the weekday commute. By Monday morning, the plows had hit most roads, the airports were operational again and mass transit was largely on schedule. Alternate side parking regulations were also suspended through Wednesday.
But for many Queens residents who rely on cars to get around, it was getting to them that proved the biggest headache. One woman on 111th Street in Richmond Hill had been shoveling for 45 minutes Monday morning in an effort to clear her two vehicles and had barely made a dent.
In other places where the plows had managed to clear the streets, the results were aggravating for those parked along them. “I had piled it out yesterday and they piled me back in,” said a breathless Wanda Martinez from inside her black Nissan, which was stubbornly lodged between snowbanks on Woodhaven Boulevard just south of Jamaica Avenue.
Martinez had help shoveling out her car, and at least one helper hoped the first major storm of the year would be the last. “No more! I can’t be doing this. I’m tired,” the helper said.
Despite the fact that public schools remained open the day after the heaviest snowfall in the city’s recorded history, many students had a snow day anyway. Parochial schools were closed, while public schools reported only 62 percent attendance. Nearly half of all high schoolers played hooky Monday.
One junior from Forest Hills High School expressed her disdain for the inclement weather after helping dig out the family vehicles on a narrow Woodhaven street. “I hate the snow,” Elysandra Carrero said. She took the day off, stayed inside for most of it and caught up on some sleep.
But if the turnout at Forest Park Monday was any indication, Carrero’s sentiments were not always shared. Dozens of people hit the sledding hills under a clear blue sky. Young children bundled head to toe tramped up the gentle slopes while daring teens scaled a steep incline.
In a scene typical of Queens in winter. “In Forest Park, it can’t be more beautiful,” said longtime Woodhaven resident Maria Thomson, reflecting on the weekend snowfall. “It’s just like a Currier & Ives painting.”
And it was, although with a modern flair. The wooden toboggans pictured in the mid-1800 lithographs Thomson recalled were replaced with contraptions of all sorts, from plastic sleds and high-speed inflatable tubes to snowboards.
The sleds in Forest Park were moving at quite a clip compared with cars on some side streets, though main thoroughfares had mostly been cleared by Monday afternoon.
The day before, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki urged residents to stay in if possible, or use mass transit instead of driving. There were massive delays on the Long Island Rail Road both into and out of Manhattan during and after the storm. The No. 7 train absorbed some of the Long Island commuters Monday morning, making for uncomfortably packed trains, residents reported.
As Monday wore on, the white blanket over the city grew dingy. Some side streets became slippery, harrowing throughways after the day’s warming sun had set. On one such street off Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, one resident was still digging out. “The city doesn’t go through here,” said Mauricio Garcia, as he dug out his wife’s minivan, adding that neither a plow nor a salt truck had made its way past his house, Garcia had no problem getting out that morning, but spent half an hour looking for a place to park upon his return. Still, it was after dark and he’d had enough of shoveling snow. “I hope there’s not going to be more,” he said, tossing another load aside.
By Wednesday, the mostly cleared roads were lined with large piles of plowed snow and some cars were still buried. Forecasters predicted sunny skies and 50-degree highs through the end of the week, conditions that could melt the remainder of the snow.