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The Great Halloween Nor’easter of 2011
Filed under: General, Contingency Planning & Disaster Recovery, Problems and Inequities
Posted by: Tom @ 1:22 pm

After Hurricane Irene two months earlier, we thought that a nor’easter would be a piece of cake.  Little did I realize in my wildest dreams that this storm’s impact would be much more severe.  In fact, there were reports that damage in my area of northern New Jersey was the worst since 1938.  After ten days some places still did not have power and just north of us Connecticut was hit especially hard.  In any event, when the storm started early Saturday, October 29, 2011, it looked like business as usual.  We expected possible freeqing rain and light snow north and west of us, but mostly rain where we live.

As things progressed, precipitation quickly changed to light snow, but not all that much.  As we ate lunch in our kitchen, we looked out the sliding glass door to our deck.  There was a little snow on it that seemed to be coming down harder, but nothing to really be concerned about.  A short while later, however, the lights started flickering.  My wife had been making lasagne.  I must have had a premonition as I told her to quickly finish up anything requiring electricity. She just finished cooking the noodles when the power went off not to return again for six days.

Later in the afternoon the storm worsened.  I went outside to shovel 4 or 5 inches of very heavy snow off the driveway.  All of a sudden, I heard explosions and loud cracking sounds.  I knew right away that the snow was breaking tree limbs that had not yet lost their leaves.  Those leaves played a major role in the major damage that was destined for my area including my own yard.  Unfortunately, even though Hurricane Irene damaged and destroyed many trees, there remained countless others that had been spared the first time.  Mother Nature was determined to finish filling the void and neglect of the power company, Jersey Central Power & Light, by cleaning house for them.

In over 30 years that I’ve lived on my street, we have had constant problems of downed wires in storms.  Our neighborhood has buried services, but is at the mercy of above ground feeders.  Had those been buried, we likely would have avoided many outages over the years.  The added cost would probably have paid for itself many times over.  In this case we probably would’ve lost power, but for a much shorter period of time.  The upsetting part is that we are paying premium prices for third world service.

With Hurricane Irene, the outage was much more localized and a day shorter.  We were able to find relief by visiting our children and their families who each live about 2 miles away.  They never lost power from Irene and only for a couple of days this time.  However, travel between us was difficult both times, mostly from flooding with Irene and this time from more extensive downed trees, branches and wires.

The small portable generator that I used for Hurricane Irene continues to be a godsend.  This time, I also used it in my yard to power an electric chainsaw, and spent three full days cutting up and clearing debris.  For anyone considering the investment in a chainsaw, I recommend getting a carbide tipped chain for it.  About ten years ago I got tired of replacing the regular carbon steel chains!

After the power went out, the Verizon wired phones worked for a couple of days before going out of service.   They came back on before the power did.  The Comcast cable did not come back until a day after power was restored.  My cellular services, including the data card for my laptop, degraded more severely this time (compared to Irene) until people started to get their power back.  There were also reports of over 200 cell towers being out of commission from the storm this time that may have contributed to weaker signals before being repaired.

From a contingency planning and disaster recovery standpoint, I believe that these storms provided good lessons.  The large medical center that I use near my daughter’s home, had no power for a few days and was completely shutdown.  Normally, they have an urgent care center.  Also, even though I am an advocate of cloud computing, I also believe that standalone local solutions should not be abandoned to assure more failsafe service. It is important to have a backup plan in case all else fails. In particular, one of my weak links is a limited supply of gasoline to run my generator.  Many nearby gasoline stations had no way to pump gas without electricity.  I am considering a solar panel to charge my batteries, just-in-case, but many businesses are also talking about getting generators. 

As for Trick or Treaters, they had their Halloween either Friday, November 4 or Sunday, November 6.  Most schools used up all their snow days by being closed for a full week because of lack of power.  So everyone seems to be wondering what will happen the next time.

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