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Misery Grips East Coast as Bomb Cyclone KOs Power to Thousands

A massive winter storm spawned by curiously named weather phenomena -- bombogenesis, aka a bomb cyclone -- has knocked power out to thousands of customers along the East Coast, forcing schools to close, flights to be canceled, and others  to hunker down with a good book, perhaps even a thesaurus.

PJM Interconnection said the cold temperatures enveloping the East Coast and much of the country have brought the regional transmission organization (RTO) to its highest winter load since 2015. This winter could potentially be one of the top 10 winter peaks for the grid operator, officials said.

According to PJM, the RTO's system load was 136,125 MW at 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday and was forecast to climb to 133,389 MW on Friday, before retreating to 128,189 MW on Saturday and 119,000 MW on Sunday.

"During these extremely cold temperatures and adverse weather conditions, PJM and its members continue to be prepared to meet the demands of the system and have the necessary generation reserves to cover the load with no projected transmission system constraints or major gas pipeline supply issues," said PJM Dispatch Director Chris Pilong.

States Of Emergency

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across New York City, Long Island and Westchester County at midday Thursday. A travel advisory that was to expire at 4:00 p.m. EDT was also issued, with the worst weather expected to last until midafternoon. Sustained winds of 25-30 mph were expected across the region, with wind gusts of up to 60 mph possible.

The storm was likely to create blizzard conditions across the region, making roadway travel treacherous through blowing snow, whiteouts and, in the evening hours, black ice. Six to 10 inches of snow were expected to be dumped on New York City. On Long Island, four to eight inches were expected to fall in Nassau County, with nine inch to a foot of snow in Suffolk County. Four to eight inches of snow were predicted for Westchester County, north of the city.

"We will continue to monitor the storm and have deployed hundreds of assets and personnel across the state and on Long Island, ready to respond and assist impacted communities," Cuomo said. "I ask all New Yorkers to stay informed, and continue to prepare for cold and snow."

Orange & Rockland Utilities Inc., which serves the Greater New York City area, reported 22 power outage incidents across its service area at noon on Thursday. Orange County, NY, was the hardest hit, with 1,135 customers without power, while 82 customers were without power in neighboring Rockland County, NY, and two customers were in the dark in Sullivan County, NY.

At 8:35 a.m. Thursday, ISO New England (ISO-NE) reported 23,783 MW of available capacity, and forecast peak demand by 6 p.m. of 19,940 MW. By comparison, the RTO said peak demand reached 19,518 MW on Wednesday. System demand reached 18,367 MW at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, just below a forecasted demand of 18,800 MW.

ISO-NE issued a system alert at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday. The RTO said the alert was made "to notify power system personnel and wholesale electricity market participants when abnormal conditions on the region's power system exist or are anticipated," but added that the alert was not a request for electricity conservation.

Outages, Alerts Across Northeast

In Connecticut, where up to three inches of snowfall per hour was expected on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Dannel Malloy activated the state's emergency operations center. Malloy ordered a severe cold weather protocol, which directs certain state agencies to coordinate their services to help the most vulnerable through the cold snap, to remain in effect through Monday (Jan. 8).

"We are continuing to monitor this storm very closely as a slight shift in track could change the forecasted snowfall totals and impacts across the state," Malloy said.

National Grid reported 66 active outage incidents as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Massachusetts, which caused 2,192 customers to lose power. At the same time in neighboring Rhode Island, 10 outages knocked out power to 220 customers. Meanwhile, Eversource Energy reported 12,999 customers were without power in eastern Massachusetts at 2:30 p.m. Another 576 customers in Connecticut, 52 in New Hampshire and five in western Massachusetts were also without power.

In Maine, Central Maine Power reported 40 customers were without power across Cumberland, Knox and York counties at 2:30 p.m., while Emera Maine reported 230 customers, mostly along the Atlantic Coast, were also in the dark. Emera said its crews were expected to restore power by 5:00 p.m.

Dominion Energy Inc. said the Virginia cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach were hardest hit by the storm within its service area, and crews worked through Wednesday night to restore power. By 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Dominion said nearly half of its customers that lost power had it back on.

By noon Thursday, Dominion was reporting that it had 511 projects on its plate to restore power to 32,607 customers. Most of the projects were along Virginia’s coast and in the Hampton Roads region, extending south to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Across Chesapeake Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula, Exelon Corp.'s Delmarva Power reported 1,725 customers without power in New Castle County, DE, which is home to the state's largest city, Wilmington. Another 78 customers were without power in Sussex County, DE, and there were scant outages reported across Maryland's Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

Further north, in southern New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric, another Exelon utility, reported 770 customers without power in Atlantic County at around 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Small clusters of customers were also without power in neighboring Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties.

New Jersey's largest utility, the Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G), reported 24 outage incidents across its service area. Middlesex County was the most affected by the storm, with 173 customers without power shortly after 12:30 p.m., while 88 customers in Passaic County were also in the dark. Less than five PSE&G customers were without power in Burlington County.

Preparing For Worst

In neighboring Pennsylvania, the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) advised residents to, among other things, be prepared and to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible. The agency also warned residents against running generators inside homes or garages, and to check on elderly neighbors and those with special needs who may need additional assistance during the storm.

"It is important to take a few minutes to address some ways to help keep yourself and your family safe and warm during this cold weather," said PUC Chairman Gladys Brown.

The storm caused school closings up and down the Atlantic seaboard. While such closures are typical fare for school districts in the north, they are much rarer in the Deep South.

"We thank our parents for their support," Vanessa Miller-Kaigler, deputy superintendent of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Georgia, said in a YouTube video posted to the district's website on Wednesday. The district ultimately decided to keep schools closed on Thursday as well.

"When a decision is made to close school, it's not an easy decision," Miller-Kaigler said. "But certainly we take into consideration, first and foremost, the safety of our students and our staff and our citizens as well. We never want to close school, but unfortunately we can't control the weather."

The storm caused school closings up and down the Atlantic seaboard. While such closures are typical fare for school districts in the north, they are much rarer in the Deep South.

"We thank our parents for their support," said Vanessa Miller-Kaigler, deputy superintendent of Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. She posted her comments in a YouTube video posted to the district's website on Wednesday. The district ultimately decided to keep schools closed on Thursday as well.

"When a decision is made to close school, it's not an easy decision," Miller-Kaigler said. "But certainly we take into consideration, first and foremost, the safety of our students and our staff and our citizens as well. We never want to close school, but unfortunately we can't control the weather."

Dianne Kelly, superintendent for Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts, told NGI that the storm was one of the largest the region has seen in many years.

"Coupled with extremely cold temperatures, we felt it best for students and staff to stay home," Kelly said Thursday. "The safety of our students is paramount and the risks associated with standing on bus stops in subzero temperatures and attempting to traverse uncleared sidewalks made the decision to close clearly the right choice."

To make matters worse, flooding was compounding efforts to keep Revere's roads clear of snow. "We are experiencing flooding in several areas in the city with road closures," the Revere Police Department tweeted on Thursday. "Stay off the roads! Vehicles are getting stuck. Emergency crews are working diligently."

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