By David Cruz
Scenes from a year ago when Hurricane Irene thrashed New Jersey with strong winds and heavy rains in August, followed by that freak snowstorm from last Halloween are what worry utility officials. Hurricane Sandy has been tearing through the Caribbean and most predictions are that New Jersey will see some sign of the storm early next week.
“There’s all kinds of serious potential consequences here,” says New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson. “Along the coast there could be very strong winds that would lead to structural damage and to a lot of ocean flooding from the ocean side and the bay side, so it could take a real punch to the shore. Inland there is the potential of five, six, seven or perhaps even, locally, more inches of rain.”
No matter what the storm actually does, utility officials say they’re ready for whatever punch it packs. Ron Morano is a spokesperson for Jersey Central Power & Light, which serves more than a million people in 13 counties. JCP&L customers suffered outages for weeks after last year’s storms and the utility took a beating on the PR front. He says they’ve been working toward dealing with an eventuality just like this one.
“We learned that people want more ways to get information,” Morano said. “We learned that they want greater detail in the information we provide and we’ve learned that they want more technology involved in how we get them their information.”
And that means Twitter and Facebook, social media outlets where customers can go to get updates and exchange information with the utility and other customers. Make sure your laptop and mobile devices have a full charge because you may need every drop of juice. Morano says — like the utility — customers should start getting ready for whatever weather situation develops, right now.
“We urge our customers to be prepared as well, and to heed the advice of emergency management officials,” adds Morano. “Tips we would tell them are to make sure you have flashlights and batteries on hand. Make sure you’ve got a battery powered radio on hand. If you have well water, make sure that you have bottled water and that you’ve filled up tubs and basins to provide you additional water in the event you lose electricity and you may not have the ability to use the water in your home.”
The state’s other major utility player is PSE&G, with more than 2 million gas and electric customers in North Jersey. Chairman and CEO Ralph Izzo says last year’s Halloween storm caught most off-guard. He says they’re better prepared this time around.
“Now, we at least have several days of watching the path,” he says. “We’re all hoping that it takes the easterly path that is a possibility, but we have a team of people back at the command center, looking at that path, having communication with other utilities that won’t be affected by it about our ability to bring some of their folks here into New Jersey should we get hit, should we suffer equipment damages so that we can restore customers promptly.”
You may think that — as is sometimes the case — storm hype exceeds actual storm impact, but officials say don’t be too cool to be ready. Something wicked this way comes and it’s best to have an excess of caution than a deficit of preparedness.
The National Weather Service is calling for mostly cloudy skies over the next 48 hours, but some forecast models have the leading edge of this storm reaching parts of New Jersey by as early as Sunday, leaving everyone here watching the radar, hoping for the best but planning for the worst.