When a major weather event catches a community by surprise, the results can be devastating and blame starts being tossed around before the sandbags are dry. That was not the case with this week’s windstorm in Western New York. For the most part it was a triumph of preparedness. Our weather forecasters, government officials and utility companies all deserve to take a bow.
The news media last week was filled with warnings about the high winds and the plunge in temperature that was to start on Sunday. Meteorologists and other weather watchers were precisely right about when the winds would kick in, how the gusts would reach the 70 mph range, and what some of the dangers were.
As Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday, the storm could have been much worse. Had the 70 mph winds stayed with us for longer periods, damage would have been more extensive.
Trees and limbs fell by the hundreds, knocking out power to thousands of households. But fewer than two dozen homes in Erie County had trees land on them, officials said. And remember the warnings last week about people being without electricity for days? Most households had their power back in 24 to 48 hours at most.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, National Grid reported 1,100 customers without power in Erie County, 42 in Niagara County. New York State Electric and Gas figures were similar: 1,094 in Erie County, 10 in Niagara County.
Preparedness was a key to our region rebounding, just in time to meet another snowstorm on Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown were on top of things, moving people and resources into place before the bad weather struck, and giving frequent media updates about where things stood. The state banned empty tractor-trailers from the Thruway and other highways as a precaution.
National Grid, NYSEG and other utility companies mobilized their workers, including bringing in manpower, including tree-removal crews, from other regions. It was a common sight to see utility men and women at work at all hours of the day and night.
On Jan. 30, as a blizzard was blasting Buffalo, Cuomo visited here and had some harsh words for the utility companies, particularly NYSEG.
“NYSEG, especially, has to do a better job than they’ve done in past storms, in terms of communicating the number of outages,” Cuomo said. “When they know about an outage, we should know about an outage.”
It appears the message was received.