- Electric utilities in the Northeast are bracing for Hurricane Joaquin, a category 4 storm that has gained strength in recent days and could impact the East Coast late this weekend.
- While current models have the storm tracking farther to the east and into the ocean, utilities are preparing for high winds, potential flooding and are mobilizing personnel for a recovery effort if needed.
- Governors in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, and North Carolina have declared states of emergency, and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) warns that energy infrastructure along the coast could be threatened, even if the storm does not make landfall.
Hurricane Joaquin pummeled the Bahamas and has gained strength as it moved north. For most of the week, forecasting its path has been difficult, as a variety of models predicted different paths for the storm.
By Friday morning, however, the models appeared to be coalescing, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the storm is most likely to veer east and continue parallel to the U.S. coast without making landfall.
Even so, the EIA reports that heavy rain, strong winds and possible flooding could threaten electric infrastructure throughout the mid-Atlantic states.
"Because of the storm's proximity to the coast, high winds, rainfall, and flooding will potentially affect energy infrastructure such as power transmission and distribution lines, petroleum refineries, natural gas processing plants, and distribution terminals," the agency said in a statement.
Regardless of the storm's eventual path, utilities up and down the coast spent the better part of the week gearing up.
"As we prepare for this storm, we are implementing many of the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy to help accelerate the restoration efforts," said James Sears Jr., FirstEnergy's president of Maryland Operations and vice president of Potomac Edison in a statement.
Sears added that the storm would allow the utility to test new technologies to help its response.
"Joaquin may provide our first opportunity to use our new storm damage assessment app that automatically uploads information from the field to our electronic outage management system," Sears said. "This powerful technology will streamline our work to get the most customers restored to service in the shortest amount of time."
Jersey Central Power & Light, also a FirstEnergy company, said it was continuing to monitor the storm's path of and was making "aggressive preparations to help minimize the number and duration of outages." The utility had activated its storm information web page to spread preparation tips, and said if significant outages occur the site would be updated with restoration progress and resources such as water and ice locations.
Atlantic City Electric issued a statement saying it had crews ready to restore any potential outages, but customers should be prepared for the possibility of power outages that can last "for a short period of time or multiple days depending on the damage to the system."
The utility also has overhead line contractors and tree crews ready to be deployed, and said it had been in discussions with the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance and Southeastern Electric Exchange groups to secure outside utility crews.
Public Service Electric and Gas Co., the largest utility in New Jersey, had requested 1,500 linemen and 500 tree personnel from utilities in other parts of the country that are not expected to be affected by the storm.
“Right now, we are focused on shoring up critical equipment against possible storm surges and river flooding – installing concrete barriers, sandbags and portable pumps,” John Latka, senior vice president of electric and gas operations for PSE&G, said in a statement. “While the track of Joaquin remains uncertain, we are preparing for the worst case scenario – a direct hit from the storm.”
For real-time information on how the storm is affecting the electricity system, follow EIA's Energy Infrastructure Disruption Map.