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Mass. electric utilities brace for major nor'easter

Workers from Western Mass Electric repair downed powerlines on Ocean Street in Marshfield. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Workers from Western Mass Electric repair downed powerlines on Ocean Street in Marshfield. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With just a week of winter left, Massachusetts is about to get its biggest snowstorm of the season.

The coming nor’easter is expected to bring strong winds and heavy, wet snow — a recipe for downed trees and power outages.

Craig Hallstrom, regional president of electric operations for the utility Eversource, said at a press conference Monday that his team has been monitoring the weather and preparing since last week.

Yes, this is typical New England weather, but Hallstrom said this storm looks like it will be particularly difficult for utilities for a few reasons.

"Because this storm is so big, it's going to impact the region" he said. Eversource operates in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, all of which are expected to see windy weather and snow. "So when you have events like this, resources become difficult to get."

To marshal enough workers and repair equipment, Eversource has had to go out of state. Hallstrom said the company has hired hundreds of people from Texas, Florida, several midwestern states and even Canada, and it started flying them in over the weekend so that they’re ready to go as soon as the storm descends.

“We've spread out the resources and and will move accordingly depending on [what areas] get hit,” he said.

National Grid, the other big electric utility in Massachusetts, said in a statement that it's "preparing for this storm by securing more than 1,000 field-based crews and
over 3,000 personnel as part of the company’s emergency response operations.”

In addition to the widespread nature of this storm, the weather itself will present a challenge for electric utilities. The snow will be wet and heavy, and will likely cause branches to snap and fall on power lines. High winds will make things worse.

In a lot of big winter storms, coastal areas get big gusts of wind while the interior part of the state is spared, Hallstrom of Eversource said. “But this event [will include] significant winds across the whole state. And depending on where that wet snow is, it could really cause some issues with broken trees, wires down and those types of things.”

Meteorologist Danielle Noyes says the wind will pick up on Tuesday and linger into Wednesday. Inland areas could see 30-40 mph winds, while coastal areas will see 50-60 mph winds. Parts of Cape Cod may get isolated 70 mph gusts.

High winds like this not only threaten power lines, but they make it harder — and more dangerous — for crews to safely respond to outages.

"We have a very good plan that we plan and drill every year. So we're always at the ready," Hallstrom said. “I was kind of hoping we would get through winter without one of these big events. But we'll address it and we'll meet the needs of our customers.”

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If you see a downed power line, you should assume its live and report it to your utility.

Eversource and National Grid have tips on how to prepare for power outages and how to report them.

Track Eversource outages here and National Grid outages here.

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Miriam Wasser Senior Reporter, Climate and Environment
Miriam Wasser is a reporter with WBUR's climate and environment team.

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