Winds were fierce but the remnants of Hurricane Isaias that blew through New England last week were less remarkable for any damage they caused locally than for what they may portend.
The storm tossed branches, patio furniture and a few trees. Here in town, a tree toppled over Clark Road and tangled into some wires. In Haverhill, a massive tree tipped onto Mayor James Fiorentini’s house on Macon Avenue. Luckily, he reported, there was no major damage.
And over on the ninth hole at Ould Newbury Golf Club, the loss of a large limb signaled the probable demise of a hickory tree with a penchant for reaching out and grabbing golf balls. Club pro Jim Hilton told reporter Heather Alterisio it doesn’t look like the tree can be saved — a blessing for many golfers, to be sure.
If you live in western Massachusetts, the passage of Isaias wasn’t such a breezy affair and was more serious.
As of last Friday afternoon, nearly 5,000 National Grid customers between Worcester and Springfield were still waiting for the lights to come back on, nearly three days after the fact. It was a marked improvement from the nearly quarter-million in Massachusetts who lost power at the height of the tropical storm.
And, to be sure, the damages and outages around here paled by comparison to the havoc created by the storm in New York and New Jersey. An Eversource official in Connecticut conceded at a press conference on Friday that the storm’s track had been “a little bit” of a surprise and its winds were “more significant” than expected, according to the Hartford Courant. About 323,000 people in that state were still without power Friday evening, down from about 1 million just after the storm passed.
Gov. Ned Lamont vented frustration at delays just in getting an estimate for when power would be restored — information that wasn’t expected until Saturday.
“Tomorrow? You can’t even tell us when my town might get electricity until tomorrow?” he said.
While this particular storm may be barely memorable in the Merrimack Valley, the struggles of others sound sharply familiar. It wasn’t three years ago that a wind storm blew up into the Northeast, pulling down trees and power lines as it went, leaving thousands of people in the dark. That outage lasted four days in some parts of Andover. And that storm didn’t even have a name.
In the aftermath, National Grid, which had to replace 311 poles, 90 transformers and 32,000 feet of line lost to that bout of weather, issued a report noting it had been caught off guard.
It’s only a matter of time — probably just a matter of weeks — before it happens again.
Our pessimism is well founded. Researchers at Colorado State University say they’re expecting a hurricane season with twice as many storms, both overall and intense storms, as we see in a normal year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, is telling people to brace for an “extremely active” hurricane season.
As if all the remote working and remote schooling brought on by COVID-19 precautions needed another layer of complication, what’s going to happen when we’re spending our days waiting for an estimate for when the power will be restored?
When the unnamed windstorm plunged many in this region into darkness a few years ago, a number of local leaders called on local electric utilities to be faster and clearer with information about when power will be restored. Let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson.
We’d all do well to pack away some flashlights, batteries and extra provisions that don’t need to be cooked with electricity, just to prepare for a major storm. Because if a big hurricane is going to hit and tear up trees and knock out power for nearly a week, well, this seems to be the year for something like that to happen.