An editorial from the Cheshire Herald.
It was, in the end, a near-miss for Cheshire, as it was for most of the state of Connecticut.
Hurricane Henri eventually made landfall as Tropical Storm Henri, and instead of plunging 80% of state residents into darkness, the rain and wind was enough to cause only some minor damage and manageable loss of electricity. If a forecast is going to be wrong, may it always be wrong in that way. All of us would rather be asking, “Was that it?” after such an event, rather than spending the next two weeks living by candlelight, cleaning up the damage caused by Mother Nature’s wrath.
If one was so inclined to peruse social media throughout the storm, it was obvious that many were frustrated with what they perceived to be another “mistaken” forecast. A little over 24 hours before Henri was expected to reach the Connecticut coast, dire predictions were offered as to what was about to occur. Many suggested that Connecticut could be in for not only a repeat of what was experienced last summer, when Tropical Storm Isaias knocked down trees and wires all over the state, leading to approximately 800,000 power outages, but also perhaps something more akin to what happened in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria ground life to a halt for an extended period of time.
The reality was that Henri never materialized in the same way as did those other storms, and while it produced enough wind to knock out power to over 30,000 customers at one point on Sunday and produce flooding over two days, it turned out to be a welcomed miscalculation.
But before we knew that Henri would weaken to a tropical storm and make landfall to the east of the state, putting its highest winds on the other side of Connecticut, the state’s largest provider of electricity sent out a rather ominous warning. According to Eversource estimates on the evening of Aug. 21, the power company was anticipating more than 800,000 outages and restoration times ranging from eight to 21 days. Anyone who saw the notification likely became a bit lightheaded.
Three weeks without power? In 2021 America, it’s hard to imagine.
Perhaps Eversource, after suffering such a huge reputational hit for its response to Tropical Storm Isaias last year, where everyone from Gov. Ned Lamont to city and town officials openly questioned the power company’s competency during cleanup from the storm, has decided it will always offer the worst of worst-case scenarios in order to lower expectations. After all, if you predict people may be without power for three weeks and restore most everything within 10 days, it will seem like a Herculean effort.
Yet, there is something else to consider here. At no time was Henri predicted to be anything other than a Category 1 hurricane. Such a storm would have obviously been dangerous, and produced unavoidable damage and power outages, but should it have been enough to potentially cripple the state for weeks on end? This was the question many were asking after Isaias forced Connecticut to its knees last summer. Shouldn’t Connecticut and, more specifically, Eversource, be able to better defend against these storms than it currently appears capable of doing?
Of course, you can’t protect fully against Mother Nature, and there are certainly circumstances that arise where the only thing to do is batten down the hatches and hope for the best. But storms of this magnitude have become, if not common, then at least not uncommon in Connecticut, especially over the last decade. This isn’t an ice storm in Dallas or an earthquake in North Dakota.
We got lucky with Henri, but next time we might not be so fortunate. Will there be any movement to truly rethink how best to secure our electrical infrastructure before then, or will we continue to trim a few trees and then pray that all our future storms just roll out to sea?