HARTFORD, Conn. — Ten years ago this week, Rachel Frank, Dan Amarante, and the other FOX61 meteorologists sat looking at projections coming in from the meteorological models and shaking their heads.
“We were astonished at the snow numbers the computer models were putting out," said Amarante. "It’s like everything just came together for a disaster in the northeast."
Days before the storm arrived, the alarm was being sounded. What would have been a significant winter storm later in the season, was shaping up to be a disaster for the state.
“We had record rainfall in the late summer with Tropical Storm Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, and that led to a very late and dull foliage season,” said Amarante. “Instead of the usual vibrant reds and yellows, the leaves gradually turned from green to a moldy brownish color, and most of them simply didn’t fall from the tree.”
As the storm hit, the snow stuck to trees and powerlines bringing them down and causing nearly 900,000 electric customers around the state to lose power. Some would be in the dark for nearly two weeks.
Around the region, three million people lost power. A swath of snow, more than 20 inches deep in some places, went from West Virginia to the Canadian Maritimes.
“Afterwards, it was surreal. So many people lost power and so many roads were shut down that traffic was a nightmare for about a week. Trees were just sitting over roads in so many communities,” said Amarante.
Many of those customers had gone through the same loss of power only two months earlier when Tropical Storm Irene went through the state. Schools and businesses once again closed. Halloween was effectively canceled, with many towns calling on parents to stay home.
After the storm ended, many people took their anger out on the utility companies' slow restoration of power. Eventually Jeffrey Butler, Connecticut Light and Power's chief operating officer, lost his job in the wake of the company’s poor response.
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The COO first called the storm a surprise. Later he said the storm came earlier than expected, then was more intense than expected. However, meteorologists had been warning of the storm earlier in the week and were accurate with predictions of both timing and precipitation amounts.
FOX61’s Rachel Frank told the Hartford Courant at the time, two days before the storm "a lot of computer models" were predicting "heavy wet snow."
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen told the Public Utility Resource Authority the following year that CL&P was “imprudent with regard to a number of storm-related activities,” charging that the utility company was inadequately prepared for major storms and for at least five years prior to the storms and failed to exercise or drill its emergency response plans or evaluate the results of such exercises or drills. The company failed to request the assistance of outside crews in a timely manner and reasonably manage the crews that arrived.
He charged the company failed in its damage assessment process, including failing to transmit assessment information from the field to operations headquarters efficiently. CL&P also failed in training and supporting liaisons to towns and cities in addition to failing to accurately predict and communicate restoration times.
PURA found that United Illuminating performed well during the storm, both in restoration efforts and communicating with customers.
Butler was ousted from CL&P not long after. The company stepped up its tree-trimming program in the years following. It merged with NSTAR and changed its name to Eversource.
Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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