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What you need to know for 01/20/2017

Power returns, and so will the storms

Power returns, and so will the storms

If the falling trees, power outages and ice that turned the Capital Region into a science fiction mo
Power returns, and so will the storms
Bonnie Harlan of North Ferry Street in Schenectady wears a shopping bag on her head while she cleans off the front steps and sidewalk in front of her home in the Stockade section of the city on Wednesday morning.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

If the falling trees, power outages and ice that turned the Capital Region into a science fiction movie scene didn’t do it, the weather starting Friday will make it obvious: Winter is here.

Efforts of utility crews were hampered Wednesday morning by fresh snow coating the roadways, but National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said on Wednesday that the utility expects to have all power restored today, right before Mother Nature deals her next blow to the Capital Region.

A snowstorm expected Friday is just one of the storms headed this way, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ray O’Keefe.

“There’s at least two storms that we’re dealing with through Monday morning,” O’Keefe said.

The first storm — expected to feature only snow — should begin Friday morning and last into the night. O’Keefe said that one could drop anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of snow.

Another storm is likely Sunday, but it’s too early to determine how much snow will come. He said that more than 7 inches is possible.

And later next week, O’Keefe said, computer models are projecting another storm for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It’s unclear yet what form that one will take, he said.

The Capital Region has some catching up to do on its snowfall: It is behind average accumulations so far this season. In fact, Albany has had less snow than parts of Louisiana, O’Keefe noted.

“We’re barely to 3 inches now, but that’s going to change. By the time we get to Monday, we’ll have at least a foot to maybe 20 inches of snow on the ground,” he said.

The National Weather Service is expecting sun and a high of 34 today, followed by clouds into the evening as Friday’s storm heads into the region.

Temperatures Friday through Sunday are expected to peak in the low 20s.

Back on the grid

As last week’s ice storm ended, an estimated 229,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power, Stella said Wednesday.

Crews have restored power to about 95 percent of those, and the number of remaining outages was estimated at 10,000 Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re still targeting [Wednesday] to be complete with major restoration, but we do think we’re going to have some small pockets where some of the hardest-hit areas were,” Stella said.

He said it’s important that people still without power this morning call National Grid at 1-800-867-5222 so they can be brought back online.

Roughly 2,000 utility workers from throughout the Northeast came to the Capital Region to help restore power. Stella said crews hail from Ohio, Michigan, the Long Island Power Authority, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

“It’s probably one of the largest utility restoration efforts that we’ve seen in this area in probably 10 years, maybe more,” Stella said.

“What we saw at the end of last week is really our version of a hurricane in the South. It affected a wide area and there was a lot of damage. It was something we haven’t seen here in quite some time,” Stella said.

Fortunately, Stella said, projections for snow don’t necessarily foreshadow more power outages — it’s ice that does the major damage. Snow is much lighter than ice.

“We saw places that had upwards of an inch of ice on them, and that’s a lot of weight. The snow generally does not cause that kind of a problem,” Stella said.

“As we’ve seen today, especially this morning, it can affect just the travel of our crews and getting our crews into areas,” Stella said Wednesday.

INSURANCe claims

Insurance companies have contended with an unusually high volume of claims since last week’s ice storm, but agents say the number of calls hasn’t slowed down the process.

Bill Freyer, the owner of the Freyer Agency in Schenectady, said his offices were flooded with close to 75 claim calls over the weekend and Monday, when they seldom receive one. But because Nationwide, the firm he represents, planned ahead for an outpouring of claims, policy holders haven’t waited any longer than usual for their claims to be processed.

“They knew the storm was coming; it wasn’t a secret,” he said. “Much like the power companies, we had a plan of action in place.”

Freyer said his company and other regional offices have received nearly 600 storm-related claims so far. He said his office hasn’t seen such a high volume of calls from a winter storm since October 1987, when snow and ice left the Capital Region without power for more than five days.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had something like this,” he said.

Rose Slake, the owner of Schenectady Insuring Agency, said her office has received nearly three dozen calls since the storm. She was amazed by how resourceful many of her customers were throughout the storm, with some already having contractors lined up to repair damage while they await their claims.

“People seem to be very resourceful through this and grateful that things aren’t worse,” she said.

Claims range from homes or automobiles damaged by falling limbs to downed trees to flood damage suffered after electric sump pumps shut down.

However, Freyer said some people are realizing that their policies weren’t as comprehensive as they thought when it comes to damage from severe storms.

“These storms don’t come up but once every 10 years,” he said.

For policy holders who are unsure of their coverage, the New York State Insurance Department this week activated its disaster hot line. The free service provides property owners with easy-to-understand information about the claims process, what insurance companies are obliged to cover and what type of damage is insured under specific policies.

“Each case is looked at on its own,” said Paul Orkwis, an insurance examiner with the department’s consumer services bureau.

Orkwis said the hot line was last used in the Capital Region during the powerful thunderstorms that struck the area last summer. He said the hot line also was activated during the massive flooding along the Mohawk River in June 2006, when thousands of people relied on it during their claims process.

So far, about two dozen people have used the hot line. But Orkwis said that number could rise as phone and electrical service is restored.

“Usually it takes some time for consumers to start contacting us,” he said.

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