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De Blasio Declares Winter Weather Emergency For NYC As Snowstorm Clobbers Area

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City officials urged people to stay off the roads Thursday, as a massive snowstorm pounded the area, but the snow still caused plenty of trouble.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the city, where a winter storm warning is in effect. Expected snowfall totals increased compared with the forecast estimates provided Wednesday.

And those higher-than-expected snow totals played out.

Around the city, snow totals amounted to 13.2 inches in Queens, 12.5 inches in Brooklyn, 12.3 inches in the Bronx, 12.2 inches on Staten Island, and 9.8 inches at Central Park in Manhattan.

As WCBS 880's Mike Smeltz reported, the snowfall totals were not to the extremes seen in recent years. But the storm packed an unusual punch of high winds mixing with the weeks of sub-freezing temperatures that have plagued the area.

And as Quinn explained, the snow that fell Thursday was not the heavy, wet snow that can easily get packed down so that people can drive over it with fairly little trouble. The snow Thursday was powdery and light, leaving drivers slipping and sliding as they found themselves unable to find traction.

Meanwhile, those who did drive over the snow were compressing it – and a glaze of ice might end up forming over that compressed snow as the temperature drops late Thursday.

The wind made for an added danger.

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"Snow is one thing. We can handle snow. It's snow plus the wind which is going to cause the trouble today," Cuomo said. "The situation is going to get worse as the day goes on."

Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a "very serious storm" and also declared a winter weather emergency for the city.

"That will give our agencies the ability to take additional actions to keep us safe," he said.

The mayor said any vehicles blocking roadways would be towed.

"Stay inside if you can," he said. "If you don't have to be on the roads, don't be on the roads."

City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said the wind made traveling dangerous.

"Stay off the roads if you can and if you are out there, please take it very slowly. We are actually anticipating for there to be somewhat of a lull in the afternoon and then for the winds to pick up again then pick up again right around the evening commute, which means we'll have drifting snow," she said.

Many cars were seen stuck coming off of the upper level of the George Washington Bridge, 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported.

The Sanitation Department said 2,300 workers were on 12-hour shifts and 693 salt spreaders were out tackling the winter weather.

The city's Emergency Management Department issued a hazardous travel advisory.

Still, some people were forced to go out Thursday morning.

"I've got to do it, it's ugly," one man waiting for a bus told CBS2's Magdalena Doris.

During the morning rush, it was not too bad. But as the hours ticked by, the snow got heavier and the wind picked up.

"It's very, very bad out here," Ricky, who was waiting for the bus on Astoria Boulevard, told 1010 WINS' Roger Stern. "The snow is starting to stick really fast, hopefully it doesn't turn into ice."

"It's freezing, but I gotta get into work so you got to do what you got to do," said Matt as he walked to the subway in Queens.

And for those who took the subway home Thursday night, the trek down the stairs at many stations was treacherous.

At the Neptune Diner in Astoria, Jonathan who had just gotten off work was thinking about his commute back home to Jamaica.

"I'll take Uber," he said. "Hopefully work is closed tomorrow."

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, snow plows were still out Thursday night taking care of streets after the snow stopped. But some side streets were still a little difficult to get around, and CBS2 spotted one car stuck on the street that needed help in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

It seemed that a lot of the snow on the side streets came from people digging out their cars and shoveling sidewalks, then tossing it onto the roads.

The wind was also an issue, making it very uncomfortable to walk around.

"I haven't walked around much, but it doesn't look that bad. Streets look bad," said Latif Salem. "I chose not to drive today – see, the wind is hitting us right now -- this is brutal! It's brutal, but we've seen worse in New York City."

Of the wind, Lina Bourne said: "It's not that bad yet…. I'm from Russia. I can handle it."

Meanwhile in the city, it seemed to be quite a while before the plows took to the streets.

The East Side of Manhattan was a mess for several hours, and even emergency vehicles had a hard time getting around.

"Last year was better, the plowing was better, the salting was better, but not today. Today is just not good," Badu Cisse said.

In the air, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports were completely closed for much of the day Thursday due to wind and whiteout conditions. Thousands of flights were canceled at local airports.

New York City public schools were closed Thursday, but de Blasio said schools are expected to be open on Friday -- despite a petition asking the city to close schools for a second day. The petition had received more than 118,000 online signatures as of just before 11 p.m.

As the day went on, the Queens Center Mall was a popular destination for those trying to escape the weather. With many stores and businesses closed, people in Queens were delighted to find out that the mall was open.

"Not a lot of people in the mall on days like this because everyone's inside," said Melissa Vivo of Richmond Hill, Queens. "Perfect day to come -- no lines no nothing."

Some Queens residents played hooky from work, while others had a good reason to brave the elements

"It's my grandma's birthday and we didn't want to move our cars, so we took the bus," Rosie Montilla of Woodside, Queens told CBS2's Jessica Moore. "For grandma it's worth it."

With all New York City public schools canceled, kids made the most of their surprise snow day.

"It's pretty bad out here. Haven't seen it this bad in a long time," said Annie Kump of Elmhurst, Queens. "But the last time it was this bad, I had to go to school."

"I like the snow, because it makes me happy and I like to play in snow," said Simeon Trigueno of Richmond Hill."

Late Thursday, more than half of the stores at the mall were closed or closing shop for the night. There just wasn't enough business to stay open, and managers wanted their employees to be able to safely make it home to their families.

Meanwhile in Manhattan, some businesses also lost out -- but some people also made the best of the situation.

On West 57th Street, the Gotham City Barber Shop lost a lot of business. On a normal Thursday, 30 to 40 customers would have come by for a cut – but on this messy day, there were only three or four.

"Not a lot of people are outside right now. People are staying in at home. But we have to come in and work," said Yuri Levy of the barbershop. "It's not stopping us. We're New Yorkers. We still keep going."

New Yorkers were also kind. Hsu met Brian Tragno shoveling away in front of his coffee shop, Rex, around the corner on Tenth Avenue. He invited CBS2's Cindy Hsu in to check out their comfort food.

"We have beautiful baked goods, soup, sandwiches. grilled cheese, the smiling face of Tai to greet you," Trango said.

And the place had a great view of all the drivers outside struggling on the streets. As far as people, you could barely see them under all the clothes.

Anna Salazar of Mexico City knew how to dress for snow.

"I have like four layers of pants, three sweatshirts, and these big jackets," she said.

Salazar had a message for New Yorkers.

"I love their city," she said. "Thank you for letting us come and mess it all up."

The snow made visibility pretty low, but there's no way you could miss one colorful lady named Wendy Perez.

"I wanted to make it fun," she said. "For anyone who doesn't like snow, to make it really exciting."

Meanwhile in Central Park, people were able to escape the plows and snowblowers. There was a sign on pristine, white Cedar Hill saying it was "closed for the season," but some kids were more than pleased to go sledding anyway.

In Brooklyn, some commuters were annoyed with delays and cancellations on transit systems. Fani Bissas usually drives to work from Marine Park, but on Thursday, she heeded the warnings.

"Today I had to take two buses, a train, and now I'm trying to get on the Long Island Rail Road," she told CBS2's Ali Bauman. "It's so horrendous out there. It's very windy, and my drive would've been ridiculous. It would've taken me two hours, and now it'll take three hours."

Even people who did have a snow day from work still ventured into the storm. Sometimes when it's this cold, you just want a hot bagel.

But sight was dangerously limited in Park Slope with the wind blowing in every direction. And in such conditions, you just could not prevent snow from accumulating on streets and sidewalks.

And on Staten Island, a lot of residents played it safe -- walking to wherever they needed to go instead of driving.

But as CBS2's Erin Logan reported, those who were out on the roads had mixed reviews about the conditions. Some were stuck slipping and sliding on the side streets of Staten Island.

As Jeff Wentworth shoveled the sidewalk for his tenant, he saw some potential problems.

"I've seen people going by on front-wheel drive, making it, that would barely making it," he said. "The cop cars really aren't doing that well."

He said that is the usual scenario during every winter storm.

"Backroads like this one, I think they've done one swipe on it. It's harder to keep up with," Wentworth said. "I think that they hope the people just stay in on the backroads; on the residential streets."

Some people were playing it safe, deciding to walk to wherever they needed to go. Even that was a little frustrating.

"Hard to walk through everything," said Alexis Lazarides. "I had to take off my glasses."

Those who were able to make it out of their driveways and onto the main roads said the road conditions were better -- but not much.

Manny Pocesta gave CBS2 a little comparison. He had been out plowing all day long.

"Forget about the side roads. The main roads are bad," Pocesta said. "Very bad -- if you don't have to be on the road, don't get outside. Because the snow is like sugar -- very slippery. Even when it's plowed, it's slippery."

Vidal Ramos could not comment on slippery roads. He waited until mid-afternoon to start digging his car out of the snow. But he said his side road had been plowed at least four times throughout the day, and he was impressed.

"From past years, yeah, I've seen where there's been like three feet of snow; hardly ever came," Ramos said. "But this year, it looks like it's pretty good."

What will be even better is waking up to roads that are clear and safe to be driving on.

In the Bronx, it was not easy to get around Thursday in the hilly, windy neighborhood of Spuyten Duyvil. The name of the neighborhood roughly translates to "spitting devil" – which may make an even better storm name than "bomb cyclone," WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported.

Marnie Wood said her biggest issue has been getting to the Metro-North Railroad station.

"Well, the 104 steps that go down to the train are also 104 going up, and it has been slippery on the way down and careful on the way up," she said. "I prefer up to down, really."

But she made it. And another woman, Christina, was not worried about the slick stairs and messy roads.

'I don't know. I'm from Sweden. I grew up with this," she said. "We just call this winter, so it's not a big thing for me."

All around New York City, alternate side parking rules are also suspended Thursday and Friday.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was also closed Thursday. Federal court locations in Manhattan, White Plains and Poughkeepsie were all closed.

Individual court chambers were to be contacted for the status of any scheduled proceedings.

Mass transit delays and suspensions were also expected to persist late Thursday.

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