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How Could CL&P Not Know What We Were In For?

The first priority is to get the electricity back on and to make sure all citizens, particularly elderly residents living alone, are safe.

But it's also time to ask what Connecticut Light & Power was doing in the days and hours before the storm when a lot of us were moving lawn furniture into the garage and changing plans for Saturday night.

Unfortunately, CL&P Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler only added to the scapegoating Wednesday evening, at first apologizing for calling the severity of the pre-Halloween storm a surprise earlier in the day — and then reiterating that it still was bigger than the company expected.

"Both Northeast Utilities and Connecticut Light & Power were aware of the severe weather forecasts,'' Butler said at a 6 p.m briefing with governor. "I misspoke,'' he said referring to his comments earlier in the day. "The days have begun to run together."

I'm sure folks sitting in the dark in Simsbury, West Hartford, Windsor Locks and countless other towns feel the same way during this stressful week.

The problem is that Butler is still blaming the weather forecasters when at least some of the problem might lie with his own company. "The storm came in earlier and more intense than what we expected,'' he said Wednesday night, after his apology.

Actually, the weather forecast for this storm was spot on — both for the timing and the snowfall.

During the day Wednesday, local meteorologists told me they couldn't believe what they were hearing from Butler. The storm was talked about all week before it hit. It did not arrive ahead of time. Most significantly, it was the accurate prediction of 6 or 7 inches of wet snow at low elevations — not the larger amounts up in the hills — that caused the devastating damage that has left about 500,000 still without power.

Fox CT's Rachel Frank reported last Thursday afternoon, two days before the storm, that "a lot of computer models" were predicting "heavy wet snow."

By early Friday, wet snow seemed certain, at least according to those who predict it. Fox CT chief meteorologist Joe Furey said the forecast was for 10 inches of snow across much of the state, with up to a foot in the higher elevations. "There was no doubt Friday,'' Furey said. With leaves on the trees, "even a few inches of snow was going to cause an issue."

"At the beginning of the week we knew the potential for a significant, historic snowstorm could be happening,'' Furey said.

WVIT's Ryan Hanrahan wrote on his blog Wednesday that "obviously CL&P either has a private forecasting firm that is just plain bad or they were not listening."

A blunt statement posted online by the National Weather Service in Albany, which covers Litchfield County, offered a stern warning: "We are not going to take any chances with this storm. There could be major societal impact across a large portion of the forecast area ... 3 to 6 inches of heavy wet snow could be very perilous bringing down numerous limbs and power lines."

"This will be a historic October snowstorm … The heavy wet snow will likely produce major to catastrophic damage to trees and power lines."

This isn't about pointing fingers. CL&P is facing intense scrutiny over whether it did enough to prepare for the storm — such as hiring line and repair crews from out of state — to make repairs as quickly as possible. If CL&P assessments are accurate, residents in numerous towns won't see power until Sunday, eight days after the storm. Families, school districts and local municipalities, incurring substantial costs weathering this power outage, deserve some straight answers.

Gov. Dannel Malloy was quick to interject when Butler said CL&P was taken by surprise Wednesday morning, saying his office knew by Friday the state was facing a storm that would likely knock power out for at least a week in many communities.

"The real question that has to be answered is did they do everything in their power,'' Malloy told me later in the day Wednesday. "I think there are going to be a lot of questions that have to be answered by CL&P and about their preparedness and whether they took this storm as seriously as it needed to be taken."

"I was very clear in my mind that I expected this to come close to match Irene. It was worse than Irene,'' Malloy said. CL&P "represented that they were taking it seriously. They said they were doing certain things. I do think that's a question that has to be examined."

There's a lot of talk about laws and new regulations. There will be weeks of discussion, including an official investigation, into CL&P's response. CL&P, a publicly regulated utility, can start the process with more honest, public discussion about their preparations for the storm.

Because right now it's hard to believe anything CL&P says.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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