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."
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."
Meanwhile, transportation agencies and utilities prepared to tussle with the weather.
The Long Island Rail Road's alcohol-spraying train, which fights freezing on switches, was loaded up, and the subway system's outdoor platforms were salted. Chains were to be added to city buses by Friday morning so they would not get stuck in drifts.
De Blasio said 1,700 plows and 450 salt spreaders would be on the streets as soon as the snow started falling. He did not declare a snow emergency and said he would wait until morning to decide whether schools would open Friday.
The snow began Thursday morning upstate, where many schools extended their Christmas vacations by a day. Across the North Country, the high temperatures for Thursday stayed below zero.
Traffic crashes were reported on some upstate roads, but none appeared serious.
The snow was expected to reach New York City by evening.
In addition to salting and spraying industrial alcohol, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has "people ready if needed to dig out switches," said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. Also, "We have turned on switch heaters, which are like electric blankets for the track."
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said, "We're ready. We've dealt with major snowstorms before."
Among the equipment in place at airports and bridges were melters that can liquefy up to 500 tons of snow an hour, the agency said. Two dozen plows and spreaders were handling the George Washington Bridge alone.
Con Ed spokesman Sidney Alvarez said the electric utility was expecting the snowfall to be powdery, rather than wet and heavy. "But with any type of snow you're looking at extra weight on branches that can snap and bring power lines down."
He said crews were "on alert and ready to mobilize," especially in the northern suburbs where the snow might be heavier and trees more prevalent.
PSEG Long Island, which just took over responsibility for the island's electric grid on Wednesday, said the wind would add to the challenge of keeping the power on.
"We're really worried about the gusts," said spokesman Paul Rosengren. "When they're 40-50 mph you have a danger of trees or limbs coming down on the power lines." He also said extreme cold can make outdoor work dangerous.
New York City ordered all construction sites secured. Its schools were open Thursday but many elsewhere in the metro area closed pre-emptively or planned early dismissals. At the Toga bike shop on Manhattan's West Side, metal-studded bicycle tires were on sale for $45 each.
Jamesie Killeen, walking his dog Nutley in the Bronx, said he heard a foot of snow could fall, but decided to be optimistic.
"Maybe this will be it for the year," he said. "Get it out of the way on Jan. 2."
Associated Press writers Chris Carola and Mary Esch in Albany and Verena Dobnik in New York contributed to this report.