Hurricane Sandy No Match for Nstar

Another typical New England fall – leaves changing color and floating gently to the ground, a spicy little nip in the air, football season AND ANOTHER DAMN HURRICANE!

Last year after Hurricane Irene and a freak Halloween snowstorm that left millions of people without power for days, New England power companies were held accountable for their slow response time.  It wasn’t pretty around here, people.  Some went more than a week without power.  There was finger-pointing and an outcry from power customers and government officials.

It turns out last year was the dress rehearsal for Hurricane Sandy.  For her we had plenty of notice and forecasters struggled to pin down a model for the storm.  When they finally agreed a sharp left-hand turn would put Sandy’s landfall right into the eastern seaboard’s midsection, planning began immediately.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick demanded to see the emergency plans from the state’s major utility companies outlining how they were going to deal with the storm.  The storm was supposed to strike New England on Monday, he wanted the plans on his desk by the Friday before.

That was a very good move.  That gave residents more confidence that we wouldn’t be seeing the same problems after Sandy we saw after the last two big storms.  Patrick stood up, laid it down, and it looks like his actions worked.

Monday arrived and so did Sandy.  Winds began picking up in the early afternoon and by 3pm there were gusts over 65 miles per hour being reported.  The rain was coming down sideways in piercing sheets.  Pictures began filtering in from the coast where the storm surge was pounding everything.  It hurt inside to see the Outer Banks, ravaged last year by Irene, being pummeled again, this time by Sandy.  By nightfall we were getting the brunt of Sandy, with treetops bending more than you think they could, buckets of rain and debris flying everywhere. 

We’ve seen it before and no matter what you’ve heard about these boneheads who want to be in the middle of a hurricane for the “experience”, it is scary.  The apprehension can be like a white-knuckle ride into oblivion.  All around you are trees cracking and the ground thumping as limbs come down.  It’s dark outside and you have no idea if you’re in harm’s way.

One thing nature does for us is weed out the weak.  Last year’s storms took care of our weaker trees.  We had a few that were questionable taken down during the summer.  We felt good about the trees in our yard, but we live across the street from conservation land.  It’s a steep hill and the older trees grow out over the road and they could take out our house if they fell.  I had the power company come out last spring and they said everything was fine and there was no need to trim or remove any of those trees.  I had to put my faith in that.

Our power flickered a few times between 2 and 4pm.  We made sure our phones, laptops and tablets were plugged in and charging.  And I stuck to my pre-storm prediction – we were going to lose power.  No doubt about it, I was convinced we were going to lose power and we could be stranded for a while.  Our trip to the grocery store the weekend before the storm was for canned goods, bread and peanut butter.  Not like in the past where we stocked the freezer.  This wasn’t our first hurricane, after all.

Kim and I went out to the patio for a cigarette.  I looked out in awe at the bending trees and then suddenly three flashes of blue light shot up just over the treetops.  Our lights went out and my heart sank.  My pre-storm prediction came true.  I figured those blue flashes were transformers or something exploding.  Time to bring out the candles, the camping lantern and the deck of cards.

I never take having electricity for granted.  I can’t live without it.  One thing that always kills me about losing power is playing Rummy against Kim.  Power or no power, she beats the crap out of me every time.  It just adds to my bad mood from losing power.  So we hunker down and I prepare to revisit the frustration of taking several hours to lose at cards to my wife.  I take an early lead, she pulls even, then starts to pull away.  I had some real hope for about an hour.

And then the lights came back on.  And they stayed on.  I always love the sound of the power coming back on – the sound of the carbon monoxide detectors beeping.  The sound of the refrigerator kicking back on.  The instant yet guarded relief I feel, however not knowing if this power restoration is just a tease, setting me up for failure when the power goes out again ten minutes later.

But the power stayed on.

We finished our card game.  Kim beat me again but this time it was close.  This time we finished the game with the lights on and with heat radiating from the baseboard.  I went to bed that night thankful for having heat, thankful for the roof of my house being intact, and thankful for my power company, Nstar.

It’s one thing when a business fails like most of the power companies did last year.  It’s quite another thing when they learn from their failure and make changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Sure, when the power goes out during a storm it can be because of many things and sometimes it takes a lot of time to get it restored.  There could still be some people in New England without power today (this post was written on Wednesday, October 31st).  I would bet they have some pretty severe circumstances.  But I know that in my little corner of the world, my power company met the challenge and to them I am grateful.  Too many people are too quick to criticize and too slow to compliment and praise.  I like to dish out praise when it’s due, whether to a company, a product or a human being.

Nstar made losing to my wife at Rummy for the ten thousandth time easier to digest and justify.  Yes, there is catastrophic and unprecedented loss in New Jersey and New York City, making me feel even more fortunate for my own experience with the storm.  It could have been much worse for Kim and I, and I feel for those who have lost so much in the face of Mother Nature.

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