WEATHER

Murphy blames ‘lousy’ forecast for storm response, commuters not satisfied

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

There wasn’t exactly an apology from Gov. Phil Murphy Friday, who blamed bad weather forecasts for the state’s disastrous mishandling of a fast-moving nor’easter that paralyzed commuter traffic across North Jersey Thursday night.

The effects of the storm made thousands of motorists angry — and tweeting furiously, “Is anyone doing anything about these NJ roads?!?! Everyone is standing still for HOURS!” one tweet read. Another said, “Who is in charge of the (apparently) only 2 snow plows NJ owns?” Another read, “NY/NJ getting crippled by three inches of snow. Really should be ashamed of themselves!”

The governor wasn’t ashamed.

“Part of this is was the forecasts were lousy, and I’m not going to let the forecasters off the hook. Let there be no doubt about it. Secondly, this was a regional event. New Jersey didn’t get singled out. This whole region got crushed,” he said.

“I offer our apologies to all of our New Jerseyans who last night experienced a really rough commute home,” said New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti asked forgiveness and said the state originally expected maybe 4 inches tops, a so-called salt event and had pre-brined the roads, but officials did not order plows deployed until weather worsened much later in the afternoon. By then, motorists were heading home and the commute descended into chaos.

“With early dismissals, with a lot of folks on the road, a plowing operation takes several trucks and several lanes and they were not able to get through the congested areas,” she said.

How bad was it?

“My little 10 to 15 minute drive took me 12 hours,” said West Orange resident James Harris.

Harris battled for hours through the storm, driving through Newark where icy gridlock gripped the city. Wrecks jammed Jersey roads and interstates with almost 1,000 accidents reported to State Police. A woman died when her car got stuck and then hit by a train in New Providence, the governor said. A multivehicle pileup temporarily shut down the George Washington Bridge.

“Everyone just getting frustrated, trying to drive around each other, cars getting stuck, people abandoning their cars, people running out of gas because of the backup,” Harris said.

The mayor of Paterson ended up directing traffic on a Route 80 on ramp. Meanwhile, at the Liberty Middle School in West Orange, about 80 kids settled down for the night to eat cafeteria food and watch the Disney movie Frozen after buses tried and failed to get them home.

“I think it’s good that they stepped up and gave the kids something. You know, they were warm, they were safe, but I don’t think there was a lot of communication, and that’s what the parents are upset about,” said school parent Matt Smith.

A peeved former Gov. Chris Christie tweeted, “It took me 5 hours and 40 minutes to travel from Piscataway to Mendham. #snowmess.” It’s ironic given his escape to vacation in Disney shortly after taking office, leaving New Jersey buried in a blizzard.

Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio slammed Murphy.

“The governor’s got some explaining to do. What I don’t like is that the governor seems to be passing it off, blaming it on the forecasters, blaming it on early releases that the schools let the kids out. You know, the governor’s got to own this one. He’s the chief executive of the state. It falls on him,” Pennacchio said.

Ultimately, the state fielded 1,900 pieces of equipment, but officials admitted they don’t have enough heavy tow trucks to quickly move stranded vehicles. Murphy also said the administration would definitely change its weather assessment protocols and about when to pre-deploy trucks and plows.

“Clearly, we could’ve done better, and we will do better,” Murphy said.

The governor promised a deep and thorough postmortem, including reaching out to transportation officials from New York and Pennsylvania to make sure the next storm gets a better response.