Lights Stay On!

by Valerie Bauman, Newsday

PSEG said strengthened infrastructure helped avoid major and lengthy power outages from Saturday’s storm, along with a lucky break — while there was more than two feet of snow in most places, it was light and fluffy and less likely to snap branches and wires.

At its peak, power outages in Nassau and Suffolk numbered 25,000, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said by Sunday afternoon that number had fallen to 172. “It’s a testament to the hard work of the crews, of the line personnel that work out in the elements to get the restoration done as quickly as they did,” PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said.

PSEG fielded more than 8,200 customer calls during the storm, with each answered in 10 seconds or less. The outages that did occur weren’t concentrated in one area, Weir said. “It was an island-wide event,” he said. “The heaviest winds were out east across the Twin Forks, but they [outages] were really spread across Long Island.”

Officials in Suffolk County had prepared for much more extensive outages, coordinating in advance with the Red Cross on possible shelters for those without power, said Joe Williams, commissioner of Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services.

“That was not needed this whole time,” Williams said, adding that he was surprised how few lost power. “The outages we did have, they were corrected in a normal amount of time. I think they did a fantastic job keeping the lights on.”

Weir said two other factors contributed to the system’s ability to withstand the first major snowstorm to pass through Long Island: major infrastructure improvements since 2014, combined with the light weight of the snow that fell. Heavy, freezing snow is more problematic and can weigh down power lines.

“The fact that this was lighter snow, it makes the system a lot more able to handle the winds,” Weir said. The system has been going through upgrades across Long Island since 2014, when Cuomo announced $1.4 billion in FEMA grants to improve Long Island’s power infrastructure. Cuomo said the loss of power during storms is the “single most debilitating systemic failure” the region can endure.

Roughly half of that money went to reimbursing contractors for their work following superstorm Sandy. The remaining $728 million went to LIPA for PSEG to make improvements that started in March 2015.

Changes included the replacement of old lines and poles with versions better equipped for major storms. The new wire is lighter and stronger, and the new poles are taller, wider and capable of tolerating winds up to 130 miles per hour.

Weir said PSEG’s tree-trimming initiative also probably played a role in minimizing outages by removing branches that otherwise could have downed power lines.