NEW YORK (AP) — The storm bearing down on the Northeast is sure to knock down trees and power lines, leaving thousands of homes in the cold and dark, including some that endured Superstorm Sandy.
Utilities’ efforts to restore power will be hampered by high winds that are expected to last into Saturday and snow-choked roads.
There is some consolation, though: The outages aren’t expected to be anywhere near as widespread as they were in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. And restoring power will likely be a much quicker job.
Sandy brought winds of 90 miles per hour whipping through trees that were still draped with leaves. This storm is expected to bring gusts of up to 75 miles per hour. That’s still dangerous, but the leaves are long gone so trees and branches won’t be stressed as much.
‘‘This will be nowhere near what Sandy was,’’ says John Latka, Vice President of Electrical Operation at the New Jersey utility Public Service Electric & Gas.
Outages in the region will likely be measured in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands — not in the millions. And the lights should be back on in a couple of days — not weeks.
Here are some questions and answers about what utilities expect, along with some important things to remember if your power goes out.
Q: How do utilities prepare for a storm like this one?
A: They start meeting in the days before a storm to make sure they have crews and equipment ready to go and to plan staffing for their command centers. They ask unaffected utilities for extra line crews to help restore power. They coordinate with state and county officials and plan public notifications. All year round, of course, utilities conduct tree-trimming programs and other maintenance activities designed to minimize damage to wires and other equipment. Now they hope it helps.
Q: Are winter storms more or less destructive than summer storms?
A: It depends. A winter storm that comes early, when leaves are still on trees, can be as destructive as a hurricane. As can a storm that coat trees and wires with ice. That’s because the weight of the snow and ice drag down wires, branches or whole trees, explains Seth Hulkower, an electric power distribution expert at the consulting firm ICF International.
‘‘Snowfall by itself is not problematic,’’ Hulkower says. ‘‘The biggest concern is whether there is going to be ice and how high the winds are going to be.’’
This storm is not expected to bring ice, but winds are expected to be relatively high.
Q: How do utilities work to get power restored after the storm?
A: Throughout the storm, utilities build maps of where in the system people have lost power and, based on the pattern of outages, what equipment has been damaged. As soon as winds die down enough for work to resume, crews fan out to try to reconnect wires, erect new poles, or fix or repair transformers or other equipment. Utilities focus first on repairs that restore power to the highest number of houses. Downed wires that only serve a few houses are the last to get repaired.
Q: Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge swamped electrical substations, knocking out power to thousands. Will that happen again?
A: It’s not likely. Massachusetts has issued a flood warning for coastal areas and some flooding is expected along the coasts of New Jersey, Long Island and Rhode Island. But don’t expect the flooding that Sandy wrought.
Q: Did Sandy and the nor'easter that followed a week later make things less dangerous by clearing out the weak and dead branches and trees?
A: Yes. But there’s a potential trade-off: the storms may have weakened trees that were previously healthy. Also, there may still be some weak spots in the electrical system where utilities made temporary fixes that they haven’t yet been able to secure.
Q: What should homeowners do in the event of an outage?
Report outages as soon as possible. Stay away from downed wires and report them to the utility. If you are running a generator, make sure it is outside to avoid breathing exhaust. If using a portable stove or kerosene heater, make sure there is adequate ventilation. The best way to keep the house warm is to open blinds during the day, but shut them at night, and gather in central rooms, according to the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group.
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