NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The first snowstorm of the season wreaked havoc on the evening commute Thursday, dumping higher-than-expected snow totals across much of the Tri-State area and single handedly making it the snowiest November since 1938.
In New York City, the wet snowfall and wind gusts downed numerous tree branches. Police advised people to stay indoors and avoid the roads. Accidents snarled traffic in both directions at the George Washington Bridge for several hours. The upper level of the bridge was shut, but later reopened with delays.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, drivers found themselves in total gridlock along Manhattan's west side. It took CBS2's crew all of five hours to travel from 57th Street to the 158th Street exit on the West Side Highway.
From midnight Wednesday to Thursday, the FDNY reported 4,300 EMS calls and 2,500 FDNY calls.
The city's Sanitation Department says the quick change in forecast combined with accidents, bridge closures, and downed trees combined to form the root of the problem.
"We are definitely seeing the ramifications of what happened on the George Washington Bridge earlier and also what's happening on the Bayonne Bridge," Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said. "We had gotten to over sixty percent of the streets of New York salted, at least once. But we are definitely being slowed down by the traffic that is currently there. I have several pieces of equipment that are in the traffic."
Click here to check plow progress across NYC.
"Across the city, things are moving slowly," Garcia added. "We have over 700 spreaders and several hundred plows out on the streets of New York right now, making progress through all of their routes. We are seeing more snow than we had anticipated but were able to shift into plowing starting around 3:20 this afternoon."
Garcia said that the Sanitation Department had pre-salted significant hilly areas and overpasses in New York City earlier in the day.
"It is a slow go. I would really recommend that people be really cautious," Garcia said. "This ended up being a relatively significant storm. If you're driving, you really need to be cautious, particularly as it is getting dark so early, with pedestrians out there."
"It is a big storm," she added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the widespread delays on the timing of the storm, which downed trees across all five boroughs. He assured New Yorkers the Sanitation Department would work through the night to clear the city's roads before the morning commute.
Alternate side parking rules will once again be suspended on Friday for snow removal operations, officials announced late Thursday.
Drivers tell CBS2 they just hope the city is better prepared next time.
Mass Transit, Massive Trouble
With the worse than expected weather, many commuters left work early hoping to beat the rush on mass transit. Packed NJ TRANSIT platforms greeted commuters as they tried to make a mad dash at Penn Station New York, but at least they were moving. The Port Authority Bus Terminal remained at a standstill since Thursday afternoon.
With so many buses delayed or cancelled, officials had to shut the doors to second and third floor terminals due to overcrowding.
"I've been here 25 years, I've never known them to shut down these floors before," commuter Neil Martin said.
Port Authority resorted to shuffling riders around, without a clear timeline for departures. PATH service from 33rd Street Herald Square was free through the night to accommodate travellers trying to get to New Jersey.
JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports were reporting three hour delays by mid-afternoon, which extended to four hours by early evening.
The MTA reported delays on all Bronx and Brooklyn bus lines. The wintry mix also impacted LIRR service, with a downed tree snarling the Port Washington branch.
The LIRR reported switch trouble that suspended westbound service between Jamaica and Penn Station until around 7:30 p.m.
In New Jersey, CBS2's Meg Baker spotted plow trucks stationing themselves strategically, dropping salt along the way.
Many school districts in the northern part of the state decided to dismiss students early Thursday.
Residents told Baker it's too soon for the wintry weather.
"I don't mind it too much. You know, I got tired of humidity and the heat, so this is a little break. As long as Thanksgiving is nice, we can travel," Joyce Connect, of Millburn, said.
In neighboring Livingston, schools have a full day, but the superintendent's office said it's re-evaluating after school activities.
While it may seem too soon for snow, you might remember a major snowstorm on Halloween weekend in 2011.
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