PUC to Review Handling of Power Outages During Hurricane Irene

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will take a closer look at how electric utilities handled outages during Hurricane Irene in a special forum next month. At the height of the storm, there were some 768,000 customers without power.  Some were without service for up to ten days. Overall, there were more than 1.3 million customer outages throughout the storm

The PUC will hold a Special Electric Reliability Forum to take a closer look at how the utilities prepared for Irene and handled storm damage. Spokeswomen Jennifer Kocher says some things were handled extremely well by the utilities and there were other things that didn’t go quite so well.  She says the forum is an effort to learn lessons for the next storm.

Kocher says the commission wants to look at how pre-planning went, what communication efforts were made with customers and how the electric utilities worked to restore service to affected customers.

Kocher says most of the utilities have Irene in their top five of outage storms.  She says the commission recognizes it was not the norm, but it’s always an opportunity to learn from what happened, what they can do better and how to move forward from here.

The forum will be held on October 12th from 1:30 pm until 5 pm at the  Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg. There will be an opportunity for the public to offer comment at the conclusion of the formal remarks.   

Kocher says the commission, at its meeting on Thursday, did make a rule change that will mean utilities will have to regularly provide more information on pre-storm preparation and mutual aid in the future.

Weather Wreaks Havoc on Pumpkin Harvest

From the heavy spring rains that delayed planting, to the late summer floods, it was a bad weather year for pumpkins.  “Between the weather conditions and disease potential that we’re getting in the fields, it’s a much smaller crop than in previous years,” says Penn State Extension vegetable specialist Mike Orzolek.  “This might be the smallest crop we’ve had in the last ten years.” 

This year’s wild weather ride started cool and wet, turned hot and dry, then back again.  Orzolek says July’s heat wave thwarted fruit development.  “Ontop of that, the remnants of Irene and Lee just dumped all of that rain on eastern and central PA, and there was a substantial loss of pumpkin acreage, simply because the pumpkins were submerged.”

This pumpkin is about to be roasted, then scooped into the food processor.

Pennsylvania is normally a top state for pumpkin production, no matter how you crunch the numbers, but Orzolek says consumers should be aware of this year’s limited quantities.  “I would go out and see what’s there and purchase it relatively quickly,” he says, adding that there will be few of the orange gourds to choose from by the time Halloween arrives. 

Based on simple supply and demand principles, consumers will want to brace for higher pumpkin prices too.  “We’re not going to see the doubling or tripling of prices, but certainly I would expect you might see a 50% increase in price this year over last year,” Orzolek estimates.

Farmers Still Assessing Damage From Lee

Flooding from Tropical Storm Lee dealt another blow to farmers, following an already difficult summer.   It will take awhile to get a full picture of the damage in areas hit by flooding.  Mark O’Neill of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says some farmers still can’t get to all of their fields.  He says conservative estimates put the losses at tens of millions of dollars, but it may take weeks or more to get a complete tally.

 O’Neill   says farmers need to document their damage, including taking photos when possible, and contact their local farm service agency to report their losses as soon as possible. He says that way the farm service agency can try to get further assistance for farmers. He says crop insurance will help, but won’t cover all of the loss.  

O’Neill says it’s already been a tough summer.  Hurricane Irene knocked down some corn crops and dropped fruits in orchards.  Excessive rain has hit vegetable crops.   He says tomatoes can crack on the vine from too much moisture. There’s also the potential for rot and mold with the additional rain from Lee, affecting anything from cucumbers to pumpkins.  A rainy spring delayed the planting of some crops.

There was a bit of good news.  In northeastern Pennsylvania, flood waters blocked numerous roads.  As a result, some dairy farmers could not transport their milk to processors.  Some had to dump the milk.  But O’Neill says they’re getting word some of those farmers will be paid as if they delivered that milk.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 2011 is the worst year for weather disasters resulting in losses of one billion dollars or more.  Hurricane Irene put the total at 10, topping the 9 incidents in 2008.  Officials do not believe at this time that damage from Lee will reach that mark, but those totals are still being tallied. The year has been marked by record floods, tornadoes and drought.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance Offered in Pennsylvania Counties Covered By Disaster Declarations

An additional form of assistance is available in the 27 counties covered by the federal disaster declarations for Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  People who are unable to work because of damage caused by the severe storms and flooding may be eligible for federal disaster unemployment assistance if they live in one of those counties.

Patrick Beatty, Deputy Secretary for Unemployment Compensation at the Department of Labor and Industry, says the deadline to apply is October 14th.  He says DUA is completely funded by the federal government and applies to those who have lost their jobs as a direct result of the storm and would not be covered under the state’s unemployment compensation law.

Beatty says it’s also available for people who have suffered an illness or injury as a direct result of the disaster and cannot work. He says the program also applies to those who are self-employed.

People can file by calling 1-877-FILE-DUA or by going to one of the Disaster Recovery Centers being established in Bradford, Columbia, Dauphin, Lycoming, Luzerne, Sullivan or Wyoming Counties.   

People who are out of work because of the storm, but are covered by the state’s unemployment compensation law, should apply for regular benefits.

President Declares Disaster for Pennsylvania

The damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee has now opened more than two dozen counties for federal assistance.    President Obama has issued a disaster declaration for 19 counties affected by the flooding.  11  counties were included an earlier disaster declaration for Hurricane Irene. Three counties were on both declarations. It means that individual assistance is available for residents and businesses in those counties if they qualify.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Bill Brubaker says businesses and individuals should document all damage and register to apply for assistance.  

The counties in the Tropical Storm Lee declaration are Adams, Bradford, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming, and York Counties.  The counties in the Irene declaration issued late last month were Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Sullivan, and Wyoming counties.  People and businesses must be located in one of those counties to apply.

The help can range from rental assistance for temporary housing, grants for home repairs or low interest loans to cover uninsured and under-insured losses.  There are programs for home owners, renters and businesses.

Brubaker says if you have any damage, you will need to apply, because there is a deadline.  He says some damage may not be immediately apparent.

Brubaker says home owners, renters and businesses will need to document everything, taking a lot of photographs.  The documentation should include whether or not you’ve filed an insurance claim for the damage.

To register by phone, call 1-800-621-FEMA.  You can also register on line.

The State Insurance Department is advising residents who suffered flood losses to document all of their damage, whether they’re eligible for the federal assistance or filing claims with flood insurance or home owners policies.  You should secure problems to prevent further damage, but don’t make permanent repairs until your insurance carrier says it’s OK.

To learn more about flood insurance go to New policies have a 30 day waiting period.  The insurance covers structures for up to $250,000 and contents for  up to $100,000.

Insurance Department spokeswoman Rosanne Placey says if you don’t have flood insurance, reach out to your homeowners insurance company to see if any of the damage is covered. Remember that if a vehicle was damaged, it will be covered under your auto insurance policy if you have comprehensive coverage.

For more tips from the insurance department, visit their web site.  If you have questions, you can call  their toll free line at  1-877-881-6388.


Hurricane Irene Highlights Dangers of Falling Trees, Need to Inventory Those Around Your Home

Tragically, a number of the deaths from Hurricane Irene were blamed on fallen trees or tree limbs, including three in Pennsylvania.   Robert Wells, associate director of Arboriculture outreach at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, says people need to think proactively about tree health.  He says we usually think of trees biologically, but we should also consider them as structural items and we should know if they have any weaknesses that could cause them to fail.

Wells says those problems are often not apparent to the untrained eye. He says a certified arborist should examine your trees throughout the year and help you develop a planned health care program.   You can get a list of certified arborists at

Wells says a tree can look perfectly healthy and still have weakened limbs, cracked limbs, beam cracks, compromised root systems; any of a dozen different things that a trained eye would see.

Wells says Irene took down numerous full canopy trees. In many cases, healthy looking ashes and oaks went over while dead trees were not harmed. He says the ground was so saturated and the temperatures were warm.  In those conditions, even a wind of 40 miles an hour can cause root plate failure, causing the entire tree to uproot and flip over.

He says remedial action can help damaged trees.  There is end weight reduction for limbs that have beam cracks.  He says limbs can be removed, cabled or braced.  For older trees, crown reduction that takes some end and top weight out can help.

Wells says small changes over long periods of time are the most effective preventative techniques for taking care of a tree.  He says it’s when we make big changes all at once, that a tree has a difficult time.

Thousands of Pennsylvanians Still Without Power

The wrath of Hurricane Irene was too much for many electric transmission and distribution lines in the eastern half of the state.  At the height of the storm, 768,000 homes and businesses were without power.  As of 1pm, Monday, the Public Utility Commission reported that number had been reduced to 385,000. 

Utility crews from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky have arrived in PPL Electric’s 29-county service territory.  “Right now were’ still looking at probably a 3 – 5 days in which to wrap up all of the storm restoration.  That’s the extent of the damage we’re seeing,” says PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau.

First Energy has more than 4,000 extra workers on hand in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  “We’re going to have to probably, in the Met-Ed area, replace more than 200-poles and more than 400-spans of wire that have come down,” explains spokesman Scott Surgeoner.  While crews are working around-the-clock, Surgeoner says it’s too early to estimate how long it will take to restore power to all Met-Ed and Penelec customers. 

If your power is out, the Public Utility Commission recommends unplugging large appliances (except for the refrigerator/freezer) and keeping most light switches in the off position.  “Otherwise, when the power comes back on, it could cause a surge to your home and really short out some of your equipment and belongings,” says PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.  She says to leave one lamp on, so you know when the power is restored.  Then, wait 15-minutes before turning on other appliances.

Maryland Resort Dodges Worst of Irene

A popular Maryland resort ordered a mandatory evacuation on Thursday ahead of Irene, but the town was back in business by noon Sunday.    Ocean City, Maryland dodged a bullet as Hurricane Irene roared up the coast.

Mayor Rick Meehan says the winds were not quite as strong as predicted and the height of the storm surge came at low tide, rather than high tide. 

 Meehan says they still received a significant storm, and the town was no place to be while Irene was pounding the surf. He says the town was battered by sustained winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour with gusts up to 80 , along with a six to eight foot storm surge.  They had to shut down the sewer treatment plant on Saturday. 

Meehan says   it was the right thing to do to evacuate the town.  He says they wanted to make sure visitors would have time not only to get out of Ocean City before the storm hit, but to get back to their homes.  Meehan says they didn’t want people to be forced to travel  during the storm. He thanked people for heeding the warnings.

Meehan says the dune system is still in place and intact and the seawall along the boardwalk protected the properties there.

Meehan says businesses are looking forward to the Labor Day holiday. He says living along the Atlantic Coast has some tremendous benefits, but every once in the while, there’s a bump in the road.  Meehan says that’s all Irene turned out to be.  He says businesses are ready to bring back customers and move forward.

The Clean-up and Recovery Begins…

As crews tried to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers left in the dark by Hurricane Irene, state officials continued their efforts to set Pennsylvania on the path to recovery in the wake of the enormous storm.

Governor Tom Corbett provided updates on the state’s fatalities Sunday, including people killed by falling trees in Dauphin, Monroe and Luzerne counties. A fourth person died after losing control of their car along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Carbon County. Authorities in Montgomery County say the body of a woman was discovered in a creek near her abandoned car. The death toll stood at five by Monday morning, but more reports of storm-related fatalities were possible.

Flood waters threaten vehicles in suburban Philadelphia Saturday night

Officials also say the flooding threat is not over. The Delaware River will crest above flood stage Monday and other waterways throughout eastern Pennsylvania will be affected as the rains dumped by Irene to the north of us run off to the south.

Governor Corbett has asked Washington for federal disaster assistance for at least 11 counties affected by Hurricane Irene: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wyoming and Wayne.

While Irene is gone, another potentially dangerous storm system is developing in the eastern Atlantic. Tropical Depression 12 is expected to be a hurricane by Thursday as it moves slowly westward.