More Woes for Electric Customers in Hurricane Irene’s Wake

As the high winds associated with Hurricane Irene picked up velocity in Pennsylvania during the early morning hours, the state’s utilities were scrambling to keep the lights on. As of 10:45am Sunday, PPL was reporting more than 191,000 customers out of service in 29 counties, with more reports of additional outages coming in. The most widespread outages were reported in Dauphin, Lancaster, Cumberland, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties.

Meanwhile, PECO was also working to restore power to thousands of customers in southeast Pennsylvania as dawn arrived and the extent of damage from Hurricane Irene became evident.

There are numerous reports of flooding, downed trees and other property damage throughout eastern PA as the massive storm finally begins to move to the north east.


Irene Batters, Floods Pennsylvania

Hurricane Irene continues its slow, lumbering journey up the east coast bringing heavy rains and powerful winds to the eastern half of the Commonwealth. Some of the heaviest rainfall has been recorded in south-central Pennsylvania, where totals in York and Lancaster counties have topped a half-foot according to the National Weather Service. The Philadelphia region is reporting similar rainfall totals, but southeast PA is also dealing with the brunt of Irene’s winds. Much of Pennsylvania was prone to severe flooding after earlier August rains contributed to a saturated ground.

Utilities have added extra manpower this weekend to deal with Irene’s wake. As of 4:30am Sunday, PPL was reporting more than 75,000 customers without service, the bulk of them in Lancaster, Berks and Lehigh counties. PECO was reporting mostly sporadic problems in the 5-county Philadelphia region.

The path, size and severity of Irene is nearly unprecedented. It will turn its wrath on New York City for much of Sunday, with Pennsylvania emerging from the worst of the system by midday Sunday.


Utilities Prepare for Irene

Utilities in the path of Irene have been busy preparing for the storm, transferring crews and even having tree trimming crews available if the hurricane causes damage to the power grid. They urge customers to call if they lose service during the storm, and not just assume the utility knows because the whole neighborhood is out.

PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez says the emergency number is 1-800-841-4141.  She says they’re suggesting customers have a flashlight, battery powered radio and extra batteries in case service is lost during the storm.

Engel Menendez says customers should stay away from damaged equipment or downed wires.  She says even if power is out in a neighborhood, a wire could still be live. Those conditions should be reported immediately.

Engel Menendez says if you have to use a generator; keep it outside and away from windows and never connect it directly to the home’s wiring or a household outlet. She says if the generators are connected that way, they can feed electricity back into PECO’s system, creating a dangerous risk for utility crews who are working to restore service.

PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau says the utility is bringing in crews from Kentucky to help with storm clean up if needed. He also emphasizes that people need to stay away from downed power lines as well as electrical equipment that may be underwater. PPL’s emergency service number is 1-800-342-5775.

Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for First Energy, says they expect to have the most impact on the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey portions of their service area. They have been moving crews from their western service territory to their eastern territories, including those from West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.  The utility also has two meteorologists on staff.

Surgeoner says if Met Ed customers or other First Energy customers experience an outage, they should call 1-888-544-4877. He says all outages should be reported, because the more who report, the sooner they can pinpoint the exact location of the outage problem.

Surgeoner says if you lose power, keep freezers and refrigerators shut unless you have to get something out.  He says a freezer can keep foods fresh up to three days if it’s not repeatedly opened.  State Health officials say you should check the temperature of the freezer with a thermometer as soon as power is restored.

Telephone and Wireless service providers have also been preparing for the storm.   Network engineers and facilities people are ready to deploy equipment as needed to help with communications needs according to Verizon Wireless. Spokesman Sheldon Jones says they plan year-round for these types of situations and they’re confidence the network will perform well.

But as the recent earthquake shows, wireless networks can experience delays. Jone says when you have hundreds of thousands of people calling at one time, some calls may not get through until the congestion clears. He says people should limit the amount of non-emergency calls they make as the storm hits, and try texting when volume is heavy.

Jones says they’ve been communicating with government agencies and first responder agencies to assist with their communication needs during the emergency.

He says customers should keep their wireless phones fully charged in case power is lost, and it’s also a good idea to have back up batteries charged and ready. He says people with smart phones can download apps that provide critical weather-related and safety information. He says many of these apps are free and people should take a look at them if they have a smart phone or a tablet.

Verizon provided these tips for landline and wireless customers:

Wireless customers should:

·       Keep phones, batteries, chargers and other equipment in a dry, accessible location.  Consider waterproof accessories or simple zip-lock storage bags to protect devices.

·       Keep wireless phone batteries fully charged – in case local power is lost – well before warnings are issued.

·       Have additional charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power.

·       Maintain a list of emergency numbers – police and fire agencies; power and insurance companies; family, friends and co-workers; etc. – and program them into your phone.

·       Distribute wireless phone numbers to family members and friends.

·       Use a service such as Backup Assistant, the free Verizon Wireless application that stores a phone’s address book on a secure server in case the phone is lost or damaged.

·       Limit non-emergency calls to conserve battery power and free up wireless networks for emergency agencies and operations.

·       Send brief text messages rather than voice calls for the same reasons as above.

·       Forward your home phone calls to your wireless number if you evacuate.

Landline customers  who rely solely on cordless phones in their home should consider purchasing an inexpensive hard-wired phone that plugs directly into a wall jack.  Cordless phones will not function without commercial power.

Residential customers should contact Verizon on line or at 1-800-VERIZON  to report any service-related issue.  Business customers should contact their regular customer service centers or account teams as needed.   Verizon Wireless customers can call *611 from their wireless device or 1-800-922-0204 to report any service-related issue.

Corbett Signs Disaster Declaration Ahead of Hurricane Irene


Gov. Corbett briefs the media after declarating a statewide disaster emergency.

By declaring a statewide disaster emergency, Governor Tom Corbett says state agencies will have the flexibility they need to provide help to local emergency responders.  It also authorizes the state to use all resources and personnel as necessary.   1,500 National Guard troops have been pre-positioned in central and eastern PA.  “Hopefully we won’t have to use them, but they’re going to be in the area and be there.”  Corbett said at a Friday afternoon briefing. 

The governor urges every Pennsylvania citizen to heed the safety advice and warnings being issued by emergency managers across the eastern half of the state.  “You prepare for the worst, and you pray for the best,” Corbett says of Hurricane Irene

Southeastern Pennsylvania, in particular, has been saturated by rain.  Philadelphia has already set a record for monthly rainfall totals with 13-inches – before Irene even arrives.  But, Corbett cautions that nobody should take the situation lightly.  “Folks in the central part of the state, I’d be watching this storm.  I’m going to be watching this storm, very, very closely.” 

Governor Corbett tells reporters he’s cleared his scheduled through Monday, and will be splitting time between the Governor’s Residence and PEMA emergency operations center in Harrisburg.  Pennsylvanians can find all the resources they need for emergency planning online.

Hurricane Irene Could Impact Pennsylvania Weather, Depending on Track

Hurricane Irene  potential path may bring it close enough that it could impact parts of Pennsylvania this weekend. The latest forecast has it taking a slightly more westward track.

Walter Drag, with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly New Jersey, says it’s a large storm that could have some impact on Pennsylvania, depending on the track it takes up the coast.

Drag says some areas that had heavy rain recently, in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Northern Delaware and Northeastern Maryland could be facing another bout of heavy rain as the result of Irene.

Drag says even if the storm passes off to the east, a predecessor rainfall event could still bring some rain to eastern parts of the state.  Predecessor events can be associated with tropical systems.  They are not part of the bands of rain directly caused by the hurricane or tropical storm.

Drag says if the storm comes closer, it could bring squally winds and heavy rainfall. The Philadelphia area could get anywhere from a fraction of an inch to more than five inches, depending on the track of the storm.

Drag says people who have weekend plans along the coast should pay special attention to the National Hurricane Center forecasts.   The head of FEMA says people along the entire Eastern Seaboard need to pay attention to Hurricane Irene. 


**Chart courtesy of the National Hurricane Center