While hurricanes are generally uncommon, the devastation, destruction, and prolonged power outages caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 have caused Westonites to be on the alert and to take precautions in upcoming storm seasons.
Irene weakened to a tropical storm immediately after landfall, but produced high winds, heavy rains, and flash flooding. The storm left at least 16 people dead throughout New England, with 10 deaths in Connecticut.
Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, New York City, parts of Long Island and the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines. Flooding and power outages (roughly nine million customers total) lasted several days, while thousands of trees, telephone poles and traffic light stanchions were snapped. Sandy killed five people in New England (four in Connecticut and one in New Hampshire).
“You couldn’t get out of town because of how many trees were down,” said John Ojarovsky, director of the communications center in Weston about Irene. “We had over a dozen people crammed into the communications center, we had all hands on deck.”
Weston survived those storms in part through collaborative efforts by fire, emergency medical services (EMS), police, town government and outside agencies like Eversource (formerly CL&P). “There was a point where we were pretty untested, but now we have some experience,” said Ojarovsky. “Our experiences with those hurricanes has made us stronger and more prepared.”
A New England hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone that originates in the Atlantic Ocean. It is accompanied by thunderstorms and its winds move in a counterclockwise motion. The hurricane season lasts from June to November with the peak season from mid-August to late October.
During hurricane season, information is key, and the town of Weston has multiple avenues for people to get information prior to an impending storm.
The town’s storm line can be accessed by calling 203-454-1161. Upon calling, there is a pre-recorded message that gives directions and updates based on the storm.
The town also has a “Code Red” system that sends emergency updates via text messages or email. Residents can sign up for the service on the town’s website, westonct.gov.
“We use the Code Red system often during big storms, almost ad nauseam,” said Ojarovsky. “I do think we use it in a very positive way, we really encourage everyone to get it.”
Westonites should also sign up for CT Alert, a system that works like Code Red but applies to larger roads throughout the state. CT Alert can be accessed by going to ct.gov/ctalert.
Following a storm, Weston often offers “coolings stations” and “water stations” in situations when they’re needed.
A cooling station was set up after Sandy when many residents were out of power. It allowed Westonites to charge their phones and laptops and spend some time in a room with electricity.
In the past, the town has created water stations to give out water bottles and meals to those without power. These stations were announced through Code Red.
Ojarovsky stressed that it is crucial for Westonites to know the risks associated with hurricanes, the potential for bridge closures, wind damage, and power outages. “If a storm is anticipated, the onus for preparation is placed on residents,” he said.
The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection recommends preparing in advance for a major storm by developing a hurricane emergency plan and putting together a hurricane emergency kit.
A family hurricane emergency plan includes:
- Identifying an out-of-town contact because it’s often easier to make long-distance calls than local ones during a storm.
- Making sure everyone in the family can call or text by having access to a cell phone or a prepaid phone card.
- Using the “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) designation on cell phone contacts for easy look-up by emergency personnel.
Stocking an emergency kit in advance of a hurricane is also important. “The time to look for a flashlight is not when the lights go out,” said Ojarovsky.
At minimum, emergency kits should include:
- One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days
- A three-day supply of non-perishable food
- A manual can opener for food
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- A whistle to signal for help
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Local maps
- Cell phone with charger, inverter or solar charger
- Necessary medications and medical equipment with backup power source if needed
It’s also important to have plenty of food and water on hand for pets. Make sure pets have leashes and IDs and learn what shelters will take them if necessary.
For more information about hurricane preparation, visit ready.gov/hurricanes.