This week brings the first and second anniversaries of two major storms that battered Connecticut. Is the state better prepared for such tempests today?
The Halloween nor'easter of October 2011 was one for the record books. Starting Oct. 29, a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow brought down trees that had not yet shed their leaves. More than 800,000 Connecticut homes and businesses lost electricity. A week after the storm, almost 150,000 were still without power.
The state is better prepared for such a freak event today, though more must be done to lessen the impact of severe weather and other threats to the electricity supply.
In 2011, up to 90 percent of the outages were due to trees and limbs falling on power lines. As part of a $300 million, five-year upgrade, Connecticut Light & Power has tackled that problem in two ways in the past two years: tree trimming and wire "hardening."
This year alone, trees have been trimmed along more than 4,400 of CL&P's 17,000 miles of wiring. And the utility has replaced many older copper or aluminum wires with ones coated in plastic or rubber that are better able to withstand impacts. Connections between wires have been strengthened; older utility poles have been replaced.
CL&P has also announced that it will begin using a GPS-based system of reporting specific utility line problems.
All of that should mean less disruption if another Halloween Surprise were to occur.
But as critics have pointed out, the electric grid itself remains a big part of the problem; decentralization is needed. Such an initiative is already underway; a first-in-the-nation program involving microgrids — localized, self-contained energy sources — was announced this past summer by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Although none of the nine microgrids is yet installed, the system, especially if expanded, would make the impact of a big storm less severe.
A report issued after the snowstorm called it "a very rare event … not likely to occur again in the near future." Let us hope, but also prepare in case the unlikely happens.
And Then Sandy
Some call Connecticut Storm Sandy's "forgotten victim" because the powerful storm so badly damaged New Jersey and New York. Nonetheless, many Connecticut shoreline towns took an awful beating, with flooding and major property damage.
If this was a glancing blow, as some described it, what would a direct hit be like?
While many improvements have been made, the real post-Sandy challenge for coastal communities is how to deal with rising sea levels.
According to several studies, the sea level in the Northeast has risen about a foot in the last century, a rate that is expected to accelerate.
Environmental organizations have been on the case. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment has just received federal grants to remove two aging dams in New Haven and Mystic to reduce flood risk. Adam Whelchel, director of science for the Nature Conservancy's Connecticut office, has worked with 20 communities to minimize risks associated with higher sea levels and more powerful storms.
Some communities have taken progressive steps, such as stricter rules for rebuilding homes in flood zones (Old Saybrook) or protection of open space near marshes, so the marshes can expand (Branford). But climate change is not a local problem; it may have to be addressed on a broader scale.
This year the General Assembly created a entity called the Connecticut Center for Coasts, a collaboration between the University of Connecticut and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The center's mission is to conduct research and develop policies to protect coastal properties and other lands "subject to the effects of rising sea levels."
The center could produce new statewide building codes, zoning guidelines or, as state Sen. Ed Meyer said, a public-private fund to buy properties that owners in endangered areas wish to sell. It will be very controversial. Do we have much of a choice?Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun