In light of the heavy amounts of snowfall that hammered Queens last winter, city sanitation officials last week assured Queens residents that they would be ready when the first snow touches down this year.
Last winter, New York City was pounded by record snowfall amounts, recording up to 62 inches of snow in total for the entire area, according to AccuWeather, a global weather forecasting service.
According to AccuWeather’s preliminary forecasts—released in October—the city may be spared the excessive snowfall amounts that last winter brought. The inch count New York City is expected to get this winter, 32 inches, is less than half of last year’s total, although it still tops the 29-inch snowfall average that the city receives each winter.
Most of that snow, AccuWeather experts predict, should come this month into January.
According to Vito A. Turso, deputy commissioner of the Department of Sanitation (DOS), due to the well-documented delays in plowing many streets around the city—particularly during Dec. 26 and 27 last year, where the city was blanketed with between 15 to 18 inches of snow—DOS has since put together what he deemed a comprehensive plan in order to prevent such delays from occurring again this winter.
One of the new measures the department has taken is putting Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on all department vehicles that will be out clearing roads during snowfall. This will let DOS keep track of all the vehicles and obtain assistance for vehicle operators if they get stuck.
In addition, DOS is placing phones inside each vehicle in order for drivers to let sanitation officials know where they are and how long they have been at a location.
Last year, Turso said, communicating with snow vehicle operators was a big problem, especially during the December snow falls.
“Out of 2,000 trucks out there last year, Sanitation was only able to communicate with 365 of them,” Turso said during last week’s Community Board 10 meeting.
Improved communication, he said, was critical in helping his department clear local roads faster as the weather turns snowier.
However, to further improve the efficiency in cleaning snow-covered roads, DOS has partnered with the New York Police Department in order to have the police tow vehicles on streets that impede or block sanitation plows or vehicles from getting through.
DOS has also improved its communication with the Metro- politan Transit Authority (MTA), Turso said, which will be important in stopping or rerouting buses from going on streets that are entrenched with snow.
“There is no sense sending buses on streets with 18 inches of snow,” Turso said. “They only get stuck and prevent plows from getting through streets.”
Meanwhile, for residents who live on tertiary streets—which DOT normally cleans last in favor of primary and secondary roads—those roads may be cleared faster this winter. The reason, Turso said, is because DOS now has the ability to hire private contractors to tend to those streets.
Turso advised residents to clear their sidewalks as quickly as possible in order to avoid fines. However, the city is also working with the New York City Service Corps to put together volunteers that will shovel pathways for senior citizens around the area.
Information on when specific roadways will be cleared will be available on the city’s severe weather website, nyc.gov/severeweather.
While acknowledging that his department did not perform up to par last winter, Turso assured residents that DOS would be up to the task this year.
“We are disappointed in our performance last year, but we are proud to say that we are ready for this year,” he said.
By Jean-Paul Salamanca