More than 100,000 still without power Tuesday in N.H.

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
9:00 a.m. Tuesday

More than 140,000  customers in New Hampshire were still without power by 9 a.m. Tuesday, a day after winds and heavy rain swept through the Northeast, causing the fourth-largest storm-related outage in state history.

The state Department of Transportation reports that at least 340 roads around the state, including portions of 85 state roads, are still closed by downed trees or power lines or high water as of Tuesday. 

Unitil, which has about 107,000 electric customers in the state, out of a total of 750,000, said Tuesday that most will have power by the end of the day, but Eversource – with 525,000 customers, by far the largest utility in New Hampshire – and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op with 81,000 customers both say it will be several more days before all customers are powered up again.

Unitil said that as of 6 a.m., approximately 5,0o0 customers are without power, approximately 2,950 in the region around Concord. 

Many school districts remain closed today, including Allenstown, Canterbury, Coe-Brown Academy, Northwood, Pembroke and  Pittsfield. 

Officials say this the fourth-largest storm-related outage in state history, with more than 270,000 customers, affecting more than 45,000 people, without electricity at the peak. 

No deaths have been reported, although the Red Cross has responded to several cases of families needing help after their houses were damaged, often by falling trees.

The North County was worst hit by flooded. A number of homes were flooded out in the Jericho Road section of Bartlett.

3:30 p.m. Monday

One of the hardest hit downs in central New Hampshire appears to be Gilford, where more than 95 percent of customers were without power after midday and more than a dozen roads were closed by fallen trees or downed power lines.

As far as road damage goes, however, it is northern New Hampshire that has taken the brunt of the damage.

“This is one of the worst storms, from talking to people who have been here for a while,” said Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee. “For an October rainstorm, we’ve never seen it.”

“DPW crews have been out since around 2:30 a.m. There’s a lot of debris on the roads, downed powerlines, trees across some of the roads,” he said.

As of about 3:30 p.m., there were 395 road closures on record in New Hampshire, including 102 state roads, said Transportation Department spokesman Bill Boynton. Most were due to downed trees or power lines, or in some cases high water.

Closures as of mid-afternoon included a section of Route132 in Canterbury, parts of Route 107 in Epsom, and several locations on Route 3A in and around Hooksett.

“Virtually the entire state experienced something, but north of Concord was probably where most of the damage (to roads) was,” Boynton said.

In particular, sections of Route 302 was badly damaged by rushing flood water in Crawford Notch, where there is no easy alternate route. Route 2 from Gorham to Maine was also badly damaged; Boynton said the department hoped to reopen at least one lane of traffic by Monday evening.

“I know at least one box culvert washed out entirely,” he said. “In the north where there steep inclines, it doesn’t take much for the water to come roaring down.”

2:30 p.m. Monday

About 30 percent of the state’s electric customers were still without power around 2:30 p.m. Monday and utility companies were warning that it could be days before everyone gets their power back.

“We do anticipate that this will be a multi-day restoration effort, and we encourage everyone to take steps to prepare,” Eversource N.H. Vice President of Electric Operations Joe Purington said in a statement. “We have requested hundreds of additional line and tree crews to assist. It will take time to assess and repair damage caused by this storm, and our crews will continue to work as quickly as is safely possible to restore power to our customers.”

Eversource, the state’s largest power company had 152,000 customers without power at 2:17 p.m., about 29 percent of its customer base.

By contrast, New Hampshire Electric Coop had about 40,000 customers without power as of mid-afternoon, but that was more than half of all the homes and businesses it served.

Unitil was faring the best with 25 percent of its customers without power as of 2:26 p.m., which equaled about 19,000 without electric service.

The numbers remained fluid and changed up and down and trees and limbs continued to take out power lines throughout the day.

One of the hardest hit towns in central New Hampshire was Gilford, with 94 percent of Eversource customers without power by mid-afternoon.

2 p.m. Monday

From a meteorologist’s point of view, Sunday’s storm was not all that unusual, except that it was stronger and wetter than normal.

“Nothing unusual – an intense coastal system with strong south-east winds,” said Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

Not being unusual doesn’t mean the storm, which had winds up to 70 miles an hour, wasn’t big and bad, however.

“A severe thunderstorm is defined as having gusts of at least 58 mph. Now imagine that over a large area – you’re going to have a lot of damage,” he said.

Adding to the problems in some areas, especially in the North County, was the amount of rain, which topped 5 inches within 36 hours in a few locations. This happened because a cold front from the west combined with Tropical Storm Phillipe as it moved north.

“We had some tropical moisture from the remnants of Phillipe – that’s why there’s flooding,” Schwibs said.

A contributing factor is the warm fall, which has led trees to hold onto their leaves longer than usual.

“They act like mini-sails,” catching the wind and increasing strain on trees, said New Hampshire Electric Cooperative spokesman Seth Wheeler .

“This type of wind in the middle of the winter, when branches are bare, wouldn’t be as bad,” Wheeler said.

11:30 a.m. Monday

Crisscrossing the town of Pembroke is nearly impossible this morning as 13 roads remain closed down to downed wires and trees, police said.

The majority of those road closures are in the northern section of town, where large pine and oak trees succumbed to high winds overnight, Pembroke Police Chief Dwayne Gilman said.

“There are only so many cones and barricades you can put up, before you run out,” Gilman said. “Our highway and public works crews have done everything they can at this point and now we’re just waiting on power crews. In Pembroke, we haven’t seen anybody yet.”

Gilman said he expects some roads will remain closed into the night and possibly into Tuesday.

With school cancelled in the town and elsewhere in the region, he said, people understand the seriousness of the situation.

“It’s October and we’re canceling school,” he said. “I think that sends a pretty clear message to stay off the roads as much as possible.”

Town officials are monitoring rivers and streams in case of any flooding – something Gilman said his officers do after every storm. While low-lying campgrounds are a concern, police don’t expect any major flooding.

“The only positive part of this story is it’s still warm out,” he said.

10:00 a.m. Monday

High overnight winds knocked out power to well over 240,000 customers across New Hampshire early Monday, and utility companies were warning that it could take 48 hours or longer to restore power.

Eversource said that 180,000 of its roughly 525,000 customers in the state were without power as of 8:55 a.m., and additional crews have been called in to assist with the restoration. In Gilford, 94 percent of customers were without power, and 60 percent were in the dark in Laconia.

Compounding the problem is that Eversource’s outage reporting system was not working as of Monday morning. Check the Eversource outage map for updates.

In Concord, 3,538 Unitil customers were without power as of 8:55 a.m. All Unitil customers in Dunbarton and Webster are still without power, and more than 90 percent of those in Canterbury are still in the dark. More than 23,000 Unitil customers are currently without power. Check the Unitil outage map for updates.

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative said more than 42,000 of its customers are without power, including 100 percent of customers in Allenstown and Northwood are without power. Check the NHEC outage map for updates.

Monday’s overnight storm forced the closure of schools across the state, including in Concord, where the high school is without electricity. Many state courts, including Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, are closed or have canceled trials and hearings because of power issues.

Regionally, the storm knocked out power to more than 700,000 customers in New England.

NH Electric Cooperative spokesman Seth Wheeler said the widespread damage made it difficult to even begin assessing damage until Monday morning.

“Overnight we had two crews that had trees and branches come down on their trucks while they were out,” he said.

Because NHEC gets all its power from other utilities, Wheeler said crews on Monday morning were helping Eversource and Unitil work on the many substations which were knocked out. Substations take high-energy electricity from transmission lines and distribute it in manageable form to local distribution lines.

“If you can get substations up you can get thousands of people back up at once, assuming our lines are clear once they energize the substation,” Wheeler said.

When a substation is out, however, it’s difficult to know if there are problems in lines that run down streets because they’re not getting any electricity.

“It will be 24 to 48 hours before we can get an accurate idea of restoration times,” he said. “We hope people can be patient.”

He said HEC is trying to get 50 extra crews – more than doubling its usual number of crews, but “there’s so much damage all up and down the East Coast that’s it’s hard to get them. … We’re reaching out as far as Ohio.”

“States all up and down the eastern seaboard are looking for extra help.”

The New England area appeared to get the brunt of the storm, which brought sustained winds of up to 50 mph in some spots, with a gust of 82 mph reported in Mashpee, Mass.

The wind storm caused so much damage partly because leaves are still on the trees relatively late in the fact, and act like “mini-sails” to catch the wind and pull down trees.

“This type of wind in the middle of the winter, when branches are bare, wouldn’t be as bad,” Wheeler said.

In southern New England, Electric utilities National Grid and Eversource combined were reporting more than 300,000 customers without power in Massachusetts as of about 7 a.m. Monday. About 152,000 Eversource customers were without power in Connecticut, while United Illuminating reported about 5,700 customers in the dark. National Grid had more than 140,000 customers without power in Rhode Island.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.