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Perfect Hurricane for an Age of Peril

3 min read

It was the perfect storm to illustrate a new, frightening age.

Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 colossus arriving like the ghost of Katrina on its 16th anniversary, Aug. 29, ravaged New Orleans and far beyond last week.

On the heels of rampaging wildfires in the West and unprecedented damage and death from flash flooding in Europe and Tennessee, the hurricane roared ashore as a harbinger of the tests the globe faces as it warms.

Along with death, the storm brought darkness to millions — a darkness that hit home for Entergy Arkansas, our state’s largest electric utility. Its parent, Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, was square in Ida’s path, and Entergy Arkansas crews have already joined an anticipated 22,000-worker army massing to start repairs.

Louisiana faces weeks with no power, and some parishes have no grid to repair: Ida stripped the lines and structures away, toppling transmission towers and power poles and cutting electricity to nearly a million Entergy customers.

Beyond the human misery, Hurricane Ida demonstrated that the nation’s grid — even with a significant cash injection pending in the infrastructure bill — will be no match for a warmer world where once-in-a-generation natural and man-made disasters are occurring yearly.

As a downgraded storm Ida brought record rainfall and devastating flooding to the Northeast on Wednesday and into Thursday, shutting down all New York City subways and turning streets into rivers. By some estimates, flood damage to homes and businesses far away could surpass the cost of devastation in the Gulf.

Newark, New Jersey, got 3.24 inches of rain in an hour, by far the largest torrent in more than 70 years of hourly record-keeping. “We are beyond not ready for climate change,” New York City Councilman Mark D. Levine said.

Former New York Times environment reporter and University of Texas faculty member John Schwartz was stunned by flooding footage from his old hometown, Millburn, New Jersey. He explained the effects this way: “A warmer atmosphere can hold more mosture, which comes down as slamming rain. Storm systems [like Ida] can become wetter. Climate change is here, and not just in some far-off place you see on the news.”

Back in Louisiana, a 400-foot transmission tower toppled near Avondale, dumping wires and a conductor into the Mississippi River. “At 150 mph, Hurricane Ida’s winds were incredibly devastating,” said Phillip May, Entergy Louisiana’s president and CEO. The company said just assessing all the damage and assigning the work could take days, with washed-out roads making many damage sites inaccessible.

History shows that customers in the direct path of such an intense storm won’t get power back for three weeks or more. Ninety percent will be restored sooner, but the situation “is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez.

Ben Geman and Andrew Freedman, writing in Axios, called Ida the “latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world” in which catastrophic natural events strike in a nearly constant drumbeat.

WIRES, a power industry organization and advocate for grid modernization, said Ida’s devastation “reinforces the need for a more resilient grid.” Executive Director Larry Gasteiger called for replacing “aging transmission infrastructure with a stronger, more resilient buildout.”

The damage in Entergy’s footprint was deep, the utility reported, with 5,112 poles, 5,906 transformers and 1,185 spans of wire damaged or destroyed in Louisiana and Mississippi. About 220 substations and more than 2,000 transmission lines were knocked out of service.

About 70 Entergy Arkansas employees are helping restore service in New Orleans and its outskirts, including 23 distribution line workers and others in management support, logistics and staging-site support, the Little Rock utility said Wednesday. About 340 Entergy Arkansas helpers are in Mississippi, making quick progress restoring power working south from the Jackson area.

Another 150 Entergy Arkansas employers are mobilizing to help, but a hotel room shortage has caused delays.

The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas dispatched 188 line workers and a fleet of vehicles and equipment to assist South Louisiana Electric Cooperative in the hard-hit town of Houma. Nearly 95% of that cooperative’s 19,000 members were in the dark after the storm.

The Arkansas crews came from cooperatives in Ozark, Little Rock, Star City, Berryville, Corning, Jonesboro, Salem, Fayetteville, Clinton, Arkadelphia, Texarkana and Forrest City.

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