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Blizzard brings 60 mph gusts, extensive outages

Izaskun E. Larrañeta, Claire Bessette, Kathleen Edgecomb, Johanna Somers, Judy Benson, Sasha Goldstein, Greg Smith

Publication: theday.com

Published 02/08/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/08/2013 10:05 PM

Outages are beginning to pile up as the blizzard gains force with heavy snow and wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour.

Connecticut Light & Power is reporting 5,082 outages, or 63 percent of its customers in Stonington are in the dark as of 9:02 p.m. per the utility's online outage map, 3,043 customers in Waterford, or 31 percent of CL&P customers, are in the dark. Salem has 68 outages, or 3 percent of its CL&P customers, while 1,615 customers in North Stonington are in the dark.

East Lyme has 1,707 or 17 percent of its customers without power. Lyme has 592 customers affected by the storm and Old Lyme has 2,240 customers or 41 percent affected. There are 2,104 Groton CL&P customers or 24 percent affected, according to the company's 9:47 p.m. web site update.

Earlier in the day, the power company estimated 30 percent of its statewide customers could lose power during this massive blizzard, which is expected to fizzle out by midday Saturday. Wind gusts are expected to reach 60 miles per hour and at its height, the storm could dump 3 to 5 inches of snow per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said 13 residents are without power as of 7:30 p.m. on Stanton Road, a small dead-end street.

Norwich Public Utilities reports 152 customers are without power this evening, with 97 customers in the dark on Sherwood Lane and another 55 on Summit Street.

Crews are not being dispatched to repair outages during the height of the storm.

Several inches of snow have already fallen and the storm has intensified over the last two hours. The overnight hours could bring the most snow.

Beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, travel on major highways was banned as the snowstorm intensified, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced.

In southeastern Connecticut, that means Interstates 95 and 395.

The ban doesn't effect emergency response and recovery vehicles, including public safety or utility vehicles and vehicles carrying essential personnel or supplies.

"As the weather gets worse over the next few hours, we need to keep the roads clear, so that emergency-related personnel and utility crews can reach those that may need our help," Malloy said. "By traveling in these conditions, you are not only putting yourself in danger, but you are potentially risking the lives of first responders, utility workers and other residents. Please be safe."

The travel ban will remain in effect until further notice.

The state of Connecticut coordinated the travel ban with Massachusetts and New York.

A state of emergency

Earlier Friday, Malloy declared a state of emergency in response to the approaching blizzard, which he said could produce as much as 36 to 40 inches of snow Friday and Saturday.

"That would be extraordinary in our state," Malloy said.

A declaration of emergency provides Malloy with a number of emergency powers, including the ability to modify or suspend any state statute, regulation, or requirement; the ability to order civil preparedness forces into action; and the ability to designate vehicle and person routes and movements.

Many residents remember the storm at the beginning of Malloy's term, which produced around 20 inches. But 36 inches could cause significant damage and change people's lives, Malloy said.

The governor has not yet issued an order to close the limited-access highways. He said he was coordinating the effort with New York state and Massachusetts.

He asked residents to stay home. Road closures wouldn't mean a vehicle would be blocking highway entrances, but everyone except for emergency and response personnel should stay off the roads, he said.

"If you are leaving your house to go buy milk at this point, you are doing the wrong thing, even without the closure being in place," he said.

Besides snow building on roadways, Malloy said he was concerned about high winds that could produce power outages.

The major utility companies have already predicted a 30 percent power outage for Connecticut. Connecticut Light & Power is in the process of bringing in 400 additional linemen and about 100 tree crew personnel from outside the state to help Connecticut recover from the storm, Malloy said.

He said he was most concerned with Stonington and Groton because unlike other parts of the coastline, they are not protected by Long Island.

"So that becomes a particular concern for us, and resources are being marshaled to be responsive to that," Malloy said.

He also said the storm is not predicted to be as bad of a storm as Storm Sandy last fall, but that a tidal surge of about 3 to 5 feet is expected.

Buses will stop operating at 6 p.m. Friday, but local bus lines might decide to stop running earlier depending on conditions.

Metro-North will stop operating trains if winds get above 40 miles per hour because its electric delivery system might fail. The worse-case scenario would be to have a train stranded between stations, he said.

The governor said he has met with municipal leaders and asked them clear streets throughout the storm.

"I think they get that if you fall behind a storm, that could lead to the types of accumulation on the high end that this storm is talking about. … You won't recover for a long period of time and I think there was an acceptance of this," Malloy said.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning until 1 p.m. Saturday.

Forecasters are predicting the brunt of the winter storm to hit southeastern Connecticut.

A day off from work

Steve Sweet and fellow Electric Boat engineers Matthew Putz, Andrew Moger and a few other co-workers enjoyed their unexpected afternoon off Friday at Hanafin's Public House on State Street. They drank Smithwick's Ale or Murphy's Irish Stout, ate corned beef sandwiches and beef stew, and played darts.

"I'm from Ohio, so this is nothing," said Sweet, a Groton resident, standing on the slushy sidewalk outside the pub as friends moved their cars to avoid getting parking tickets. "We're just killing some time until we have to go home."

Electric Boat sent workers at its New London, Groton, Norwich and Quonset Point, R.I., facilities home at 11 a.m.

Across the street, Felicia Stevens, owner of The Drunken Pallette painting studio, was keeping her Facebook page updated, making sure customers know her business was staying open for the storm. Normally the studio schedules classes, but for the storm, customers are invited to walk in without signing up first to do crafts or paint.

"People get bored," she said. "We do this every weird weather day."

Painting instructor Adam Campos was expecting a group at about 4 p.m., and another two dozen people had already responded on Facebook that they planned come in at around 7 p.m., Stevens said.

At the Monte Cristo Book Shop on Washington Street, owners Chris and Gina Jones had only one customer Friday morning until closing around noon, but were using the time to move books and display tables around.

"I came in today to do some stuff I wouldn't do if customers were here," Chris Jones said.

They plan to close the store Saturday because of the storm, forcing them to also reschedule its first two author events scheduled for that day until March. That was disappointing for the owners of the new shop, which just opened this winter and is working to establish its customer base.

"Half our business is on Saturdays," Gina Jones said.

They hope customers will venture out Sunday, though, when they plan to reopen.

A snowplow ride through town

In New London, Mark Mitsko was driving his International snowplow up and down the streets in the north end of the city, making sure his route was pre-salted and that he would be able to pass through later Friday, when the snow was expected to pick up.

During a pass from one end of the city to the other, Mitsko checked the temperature: air, 32 degrees, road surface, 27 degrees. He was one of a fleet of 20 public works trucks and 45 workers who will be on duty, probably until some time Sunday he said, making sure the roads are passable.

Early Friday afternoon, while snow fell all over the city, down the south end along the water, it seemed more rain than snow.

"At this point, you need to use caution, but its not treacherous,'' he said as he maneuvered his five-yard dump truck down narrow streets and up steep hills. "Later, it will an adventure.'''

In Groton City, offices at the municipal building have closed for the day but Mayor Marian Galbraith has hunkered down for the long haul.

Galbraith has partially activated the emergency operations center, setting up maps, a television tuned to the Weather Channel and radios to contact public works and Groton Utilities crews. She was even blowing up an inflatable bed while waiting for the worst of the storm to hit the area.

Later this evening Galbraith plans a ride-along on a city plow truck. She was excited, borderline giddy about going out in the storm.

"How often do you get to go out in a blizzard?" she said.

On a more serious note, Galbraith urges residents to stay put if at all possible.

Heavy snowfall expected by evening

In Norwich, about 30 officials attended a national Internet web conference with National Weather Service Meteorologist Gary Conte for an update on the expected impact of the storm on southeastern Connecticut.

Conte said subtle changes in the forecast could bring more snow to the region, depending on whether the heaviest bands of precipitation later Friday afternoon start as rain and sleet. But by 6 or 7 p.m., the entire region is expected to be receiving heavy snowfall as temperatures drop.

Northern New London County could get as much as 24 to 30 inches of snow, while coastal areas could see significant storm surges and wind erosion. Coastal flooding, especially in western Long Island Sound, could reach 3 to 5 feet above ground at high tide, Conte said.

A blizzard warning means that severe weather conditions are expected. Wind gusts could reach up to 55 mph and visibility will be near zero in whiteout conditions.

Following the weather update, Norwich officials outlined the city's plans for handling the brunt of the storm.

A 911 dispatcher will remain at the the city's Emergency Operations Center, at the Norwich Public Utilities headquarters on South Golden Street, throughout the storm to ensure that snow plows are directed to streets with active emergencies, said Emergency Management Director Gene Arters.

Police Chief Louis Fusaro said road closures would be announced as needed, and the city may issue a citywide travel ban during the height of the storm.

Arters said local American Red Cross officials are advising residents without power to "shelter in place" during the storm. The city plans to open the emergency shelter at Kelly Middle School after the storm if needed. If major power outages occur in Norwich, Arters said city staff could open the shelter earlier if necessary.

Dolores Thayer, facilities operations supervisor for Norwich Public Schools said custodians will be stationed at all city schools throughout the storm to keep up with snow removal in anticipation of opening school on Monday.

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