Nor’easter zaps 90K, despite post-Sandy ‘hardening’

Blow by blow: PSEG-LI's post-Sandy infrastructure-strengthening efforts were put to the test by Sunday's mighty nor'easter.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Just days after trumpeting its hardened infrastructure, PSEG Long Island faced a stiff test Sunday – the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy – as a massive nor’easter pummeled the region.

So how did the utility fare?

Roughly 36,000 Long Island customers were reportedly without power early Monday morning, after the “perfect storm” convergence of a one-time tropical system and a powerful cold front battered the Island with torrential rains and 75-mph wind gusts, leaving significant flooding and a virtual forest of downed tree limbs in its wake.

Some reports pegged the number of affected Long Island customers as higher than 90,000 at the height of the storm Sunday night.

By midday Monday – with the storm having barreled north but the National Weather Service still reporting steady westerly winds of 25 mph across Long Island, and gusts exceeding 40 mph – roughly 1,600 active outages were still blocking power to 24,700 customers, according to PSEG-LI.

All told, the Sunday/Monday coastal storm – which packed gusts higher than 80 mph, equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane – caused outages in nine Northeast states, with more than 1.3 million customers left in the dark.

Things could have been worse on Long Island, according to PSEG-LI. On Oct. 26, the utility issued a release noting “significant improvements to the transmission and distribution infrastructure, storm process, technology and customer communications” since Sandy – ranked as the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane ever (roughly $75 billion in damages) behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina ($108 billion) – cut her swath of destruction.

Nearly all of PSEG-LI’s 1.1 million customers lost power during the 2012 superstorm, thanks to a wicked combination of flooding, uprooted trees, damaged substations and downed utility poles. Thousands of customers went a week or longer without electricity, with Long Island joining several other regions in President George W. Bush’s federal disaster declaration.

To avoid a similar failure during the next superstorm, PSEG-LI has invested some $729 million in federal recovery funds on “substantial storm-hardening improvements,” the utility said last week, including “flood mitigation, stronger infrastructure and smarter transmission and distribution equipment.”

The utility has also “transformed its communications strategy” and devised a “more robust vegetation-management program to minimize storm damage,” PSEG-LI said.

John O’Connell, PSEG-LI’s vice president of transmission and distribution, referenced the installation of “new, up-to-date equipment” in an ongoing effort to modernize the regional electric grid.

“Our employees are working across Long Island and the Rockaways to continue to upgrade and strengthen the electric system,” O’Connell said in a statement, noting the dual goals of “mitigat(ing) outages and curtail(ing) restoration time during storms.”