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Region digs in, awaits major blow

By Izaskun E. Larraņeta and JC Reindl

Publication: theday.com

Published October 26. 2012 2:00PM   Updated October 27. 2012 12:33PM
Tim Cook/The Day
Stonington Department of Public Works employees Nate Miceli and Danny Oliverio fill sandbags Friday at the DPW garage on Elm Street in Stonington Borough in preparation for the potentially severe storm forecast to hit the area early next week. See related stories on F1, F4 and E4, and go to www.theday.com to view a photo gallery.
Though path remains uncertain, forecasters say Northeast likely to get big dose of Sandy

The only certainty is that no one is entirely certain what Hurricane Sandy is going to do, or even whether it will be a hurricane by its expected arrival time in southern New England late Monday night into early Tuesday.

Tom Kines, an AccuWeather senior meteorologist, said Friday all eyes are on Sandy as it moves northward, evidently aiming for the New Jersey shore late Monday.

But while the storm remains on track for the main impacts to be felt on Monday and Tuesday, this region could begin seeing high wind gusts from the large storm as early as late Sunday, Joey Picca, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday evening. The storm's large size means it will affect a large area of the Northeast, he added.

"Significant impacts will be felt up there," Picca said, referring to New London County. These could include high waves on Long Island Sound, coastal and inland flooding from storm surges, and 3 to 6 inches of rainfall, he added.

Sandy barreled through the Bahamas early Friday and killed 29 people in the Caribbean.

If forecasters are correct, Tuesday morning in Connecticut will be wet and messy, affecting mostly heavily populated areas.

"At that point, I don't think it matters whether it's a hurricane," Kines said. "The winds will reach 60 miles per hour, and it will be destructive."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and representatives of utility and phone companies said at a press conference in Hartford Friday that Connecticut is better prepared for a big storm than it was a year ago, but some power outages remain likely.

"We're planning and preparing as if this storm will have a significant impact on the state," Malloy said at the joint news conference outside his office in the Capitol. "Everyone has learned lessons from the last storm."

The governor's office said Malloy plans to partially activate the state's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 8 a.m. today and expects it will go to full activation at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Malloy said the state could begin experiencing early effects of the storm by Sunday night.

Once it hits, the storm could linger for 36 hours, and communities should brace for a minimum of 7 inches of rainwater and perhaps as much as 14 inches, authorities said.

Connecticut Light & Power, after reaching out to midwestern utilities, is aiming to have 2,000 backup linemen in the state by Sunday to reinforce the normal crew of 400, utility spokesmen said.

Bill Quinlan, CL&P's senior vice president of emergency preparedness, said the utility accomplished twice as much tree-trimming this year as in 2011, when falling limbs cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers during Tropical Storm Irene and the freak October snowstorm.

More cellphone towers across the state have since been upgraded with longer-lasting batteries and backup generators, he said.

High tide, warmer waters

David Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that during Monday's full moon the tide will be higher than usual. High tide in Stonington will occur around 9:30 p.m. Monday, and Stark said if that coincides with the storm surge, it could cause extensive coastal flooding and beach erosion.

Stark downplayed any comparison to the so-called Perfect Storm of 1991, which struck off the coast of New England when an oceanic tropical storm merged with a nor'easter. "No two storms are alike," he said. "You can't compare them. You should be prepared for what's going to happen and be safe within the current weather expectations."

Water temperatures are currently in the low 60s but they would normally be around the upper 50s in late October. Some meteorologists are saying that will produce more water vapor and thus heavy rain. Hurricanes gain strength in warmer waters.

But Dan Hofmann, a meteorologist at the NWS, doesn't think the higher temperatures will play much of a role. "We think that when it gets to your area it will be transitioning from a hurricane," he said.

In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene left thousands without electrical power for days. A snowstorm two months later also took the state by surprise as it toppled trees and again left hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark.

"What we learned from the past storms is that when we get high winds there will be extensive power outages and it won't be for a day or two — it could be weeks," said Kines, of AccuWeather.

Malloy urged residents to stock up on food, water and batteries over the weekend and top off their vehicles' fuel tanks. It would also be smart to have cash on hand should power outages cripple credit card reading machines, he said.

The governor suggested that residents sign up for the state's free emergency text message alerts by going to www.ct.gov/ctalert. Later on, residents may call 211 for information on the nearest storm shelters.

"If you live near a senior citizen, I'm asking that you please check up on them and see if there's anything you can do to help them prepare for the storm or to recover from it," Malloy said.

i.larraneta@theday.com

j.reindl@theday.com

Day staff writer Judy Benson contributed to this report.

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