A potentially messy mix of snow and sleet lay in store for the evening rush hour Thursday, but the storm was expected to pack less of a wallop than a record-setting snowfall last month.
Light snow began falling intermittently around 8:30 a.m., and the National Weather Service predicted accumulations of between 4 to 8 inches for the New York City area.
"Drive carefully, walk carefully ... we don't want any accidents," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at an appearance in SoHo. "We want you to enjoy a nice, pretty snowfall and hopefully it will be all gone by morning."
The heaviest snowfall was expected in the afternoon and during the evening rush hour before ending by late evening. There was a chance of a freezing evening drizzle. Temperatures during the day were in the low 30s and expected to drop to around 18 by nightfall.
By midday, the snow was causing departure delays at the airports — up to one hour and 19 minutes at Newark Liberty International Airport and one hour and 39 minutes at La Guardia Airport.
Schools throughout Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties were closed due to the snow.
The mayor said the Sanitation Department doesn't deploy the plows until there is at least two inches of snow. In the meantime, crews were out spreading salt on the streets. The city has about 153,000 tons of rock salt on hand, and has used up about 191,863 tons so far this winter.
"Our Sanitation Department has a lot of experience," the mayor said. "So far this winter we've had 38.5 inches of snow and today we are likely to set a new record for the fourth consecutive season of 40-plus inches."
New York City Department of Sanitation spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins said the agency had 350 trucks loaded with salt, while some other "nonessential vehicles" had plows to clear snow if necessary.
Trash collection would not be affected by the storm, she said.
A winter storm in mid-February dumped 26.9 inches of snow in New York City, closing all three of the region's major airports and bringing service on some rail lines to a standstill.
That snowfall was the highest per-storm tally since records started being kept in 1869; the old record was 26.4 inches in December 1947.
City sanitation employees worked in 12-hour shifts to deal with that storm. The sanitation department was not making any shift changes to prepare for Thursday's snow, but workers were ready nonetheless, Dawkins said.
"We're geared up," she said.