Wacky weather woes

| dbrennan@queenscourier.com |

We had a record snow in October, an unprecedented hurricane over the summer, record rainfall in August, blizzards this past winter and a few tornadoes thrown in too.

But look at the statistics for last year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — 2010 tied for the warmest year on record with 2005. It was also the 34th consecutive year with temperatures above the 20th century average.

It was also the wettest year on record. The Arctic reached its third smallest annual sea ice minimum, behind 2007 and 2008.

In 2010, 12 states, including New York, experienced a record warm June-August.   New York City broke its summer temperature record.

It appears the Earth is getting warmer.  Notice I didn’t say “global warming” or “climate change”?  That’s because in today’s world that can set off a mad political debate. No one can say for sure whether it’s man-made or just cyclical.

What I will say is that the weather is stranger than ever.  I have to laugh when I hear people say that we had just as many bad storms “back when we were kids.”  It’s not true.  You can look it up.

So the past week saw millions lose their power in a freak October storm, and the power companies still behave like it’s 1999.

Connecticut Light and Power is facing an investigation into just how slowly it responded to the storm.  Jersey Central Power and Light faced similar criticism.

Power companies have a pretty standard playbook.  Before the rain or snow even starts, they warn people that they could be in the dark for days, even weeks.  It’s called “lowering expectations.”  But that playbook is getting old.

Utilities and governments need a new approach. First, how about having a plan?  New York City did have one during Irene, but the power companies looked pathetically unprepared for this past week’s snow.

It doesn’t make sense that utility trucks need to be imported from states as far away as Ohio every time the lights go out.

Another option — bury power lines.  Most municipalities require lines be put underground for any new construction.  But most, however, refuse to touch the old lines, arguing the option is cost-prohibitive, perhaps up to $1 million a mile.

But now with seemingly more frequent and longer-lasting outages, the costs are already piling up.  And while burying lines also has a downside (corrosion, accidental breakages), there’s no doubt that there will be far fewer outages.

Another cheaper option would be to have so-called “tree wire,” tough power lines that can better withstand the battering of branches.

In addition, more aggressive tree-pruning would help.  Nobody likes to take down a tree before its time, but so many dead trees are just lining up to create the next outage.

Things have gotten so bad that many are lining up to buy generators.

I’m not sure the outrage over outages has been sufficiently built to force serious action, but wait ‘till it happens to you!