Surprise Storm for CL&P?

At a press conference this morning CL&P President and COO Jeff Butler commented that this storm was “far more significant than what had been forecasted.”

Interesting. Obviously CL&P either has a private forecasting firm that is just plain bad or they were not listening to some of us degreed meteorologists on TV in the state that were forecasting a crippling snowstorm. Friday morning Bob Maxon and I were forecasting up to a foot of snow that was “record-shattering and historic”. 36 hours out it’s not everyday we use words like “record-shattering” and “historic”.

In addition we were playing up the “impact” more than the actual amounts. With leaves on the trees and the heavy, wet type of snow expected we knew power outages could be a huge deal. It happened in greater Albany in 1987 and was most certainly on our minds.

Here’s my blog post from Friday morning 10/28:
“One of the reasons I’m unusually concerned about this storm is that the amount of leaves on the trees make them particularly vulnerable to damage. If the snow is of the heavy and wet variety we could have major and widespread power outages. We’re in uncharted territory here in terms of this type of storm this early in the season.”

This is from Thursday 10/27 (a full 48 hours before first flakes):
“A major snowstorm is on the way and will likely be a historic and unprecedented early season snowstorm. All the parameters and models are showing significant snow totals across the state.

Obviously the time of year gives me pause. The biggest October storm in the greater Hartford area was only 1.7″ back in 1979. The biggest storm in the entire state was 9.5″ in the town of Norfolk on October 4, 1987. Still, records are made to be broken and I am quite confident that in many areas this will be the biggest October snowstorm in recorded history.

It’s possible, but at this point not likely, that the storm will trend west and bring more rain as opposed to snow. It’s something to watch. The big concern for this storm may be damage to trees and powerlines given the amount of trees that are still fully foliated!”

The NWS was banging the drum too on Friday. Here are two discussions from Friday morning and Friday afternoon from the NWS in Albany. Notice the use of the word catastrophic!

“WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE ANY CHANCES WITH THIS STORM. THERE COULD
BE A MAJOR SOCIETAL IMPACT ACROSS A LARGE PORTION OF THE FCST
AREA. LEAVES ARE ON THE TREES IN THE VALLEYS /ESPECIALLY FROM THE
CAPITAL DISTRICT SOUTH/…AND ACROSS SOME OF THE HILLS. 3 TO 6
INCHES OF HEAVY WET SNOW COULD BE VERY PERILOUS BRINGING DOWN
NUMEROUS LIMBS AND POWER LINES. WE HAVE TRIED TO EMPHASIZE THIS IN THE
WATCH STATEMENT ! POTENTIALLY…THERE COULD BE NUMEROUS POWER
OUTAGES. DESPITE NOT HITTING THE 7 INCH OR GREATER CRITERIA…WE
FEEL THIS WATCH IS NECESSARY DUE TO THE POTENTIAL SOCIETAL IMPACT.”

“POWERFUL WINTER LIKE STORM WILL DEVELOP ALONG THE MID ATLANTIC COAST
ON SATURDAY AND AFFECT THE REGION THROUGH SATURDAY NIGHT AS IT MOVES
QUICKLY NORTHEAST. MODELS ARE GENERALLY IN AGREEMENT THAT THIS WILL
BE A HISTORIC OCTOBER SNOWSTORM FOR MUCH OF THE REGION. THE HEAVY
WET SNOW WILL LIKELY PRODUCE MAJOR TO CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE TO TREES
AND POWER LINES IN THE AREAS WHERE WARNINGS HAVE BEEN ISSUED AND
EXTENSIVE FOLLIAGE REMAINS ON THE TREES.”

I understand the need to make excuses but this should not have been a surprise. For one of the most anomalous storms of our lifetimes this was exceptionally well predicted 36-48 hours out.

73 Years Ago Today We Had “Our Katrina”

It’s been 73 years since a “major” hurricane has hit Connecticut. The September 21, 1938 hurricane was arguably New England’s greatest natural disaster of the 20th century and to this day remains the benchmark for modern New England hurricanes.

Since 1938 we’ve seen our fair share of hurricanes. Hurricane Carol produced category 2 conditions in the state. 1944, Donna, Gloria, and Bob produced category 1 conditions in portions of the state. None have risen to the level of ’38.

What made the ’38 hurricane so powerful is that as the storm was rocketing north (at nearly 60 mph) the jet stream was helping to enhance the storm’s power. While many storms weaken at this latitude the 1938 storm was holding steady. The tropical system was being fueled by extratropical processes which lead to a monster in our own backyard.

The hurricane made landfall in New Haven with a pressure of 946mb. The sustained wind in some parts of the Connecticut shoreline reached 115 m.p.h. There were higher gusts. Compare that to Gloria’s 75 m.p.h. sustained winds or Irene’s 50 m.p.h. sustained winds and you can see what made the ’38 storm so remarkable.

In the past week we’ve heard from utility company executives talk about what a extraordinary storm Irene was. I don’t think Irene was extraordinary at all. The duration of damaging wind gusts and the heavy rain made the damage worse than you’d expect from other 50 m.p.h. tropical storms but let’s be real here. The damage from Irene was not even a tiny fraction of what a major hurricane can do.

Irene’s 5 foot storm surge came at the worst possible time – during an astronomically high tide. How would we be prepared for a 15 foot storm surge like we had in ’38 (and during Carol, for that matter in southeast Connecticut)? Are we?

The 1938 hurricane was exceptional but it wasn’t unprecedented. There are some indications that the 1635 Great Colonial Hurricane was even stronger with a pressure around 938 mb!

When the utility companies testified about their storm response in front of the legislature earlier this week the president and COO of CL&P mentioned that Irene was about the size of Katrina when it made landfall in Connecticut. Yes, the official radius of gale force winds was similar, but we had about 6 hours of marginal tropical storm conditions in Connecticut from Irene. Winds never even approached hurricane force.

If the government, utilities, or citizens think that there is any appropriate comparison between Katrina and Irene they’re truly not prepared for a major hurricane. Hell, they’re not prepared for a category 1 hurricane! 1938 was our Katrina. Irene was barely a blip on the historical radar. I am truly concerned that making Irene out to be some extraordinary freak set of circumstances that crippled the power grid means we aren’t even close to prepared for the day the 1938 hurricane returns. It will.

Irene brought down a couple trees in many neighborhoods. 1938 flattened whole forests. The Guilford Green lost 2 trees during Irene. In ’38 it lost 80 percent of them. The trees still have their leaves this year but after ’38 most trees in the state were completely stripped bare.

If a tropical storm can knock out power for 9 days and destroys dozens of beachfront homes I can only imagine what a major hurricane like 1938 would do.