Category Archives: Weather

Pic Of The Day #1252

The Saugatuck River and Riverside Avenue last week, framed by smoke from wildfires 3,000 miles away. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

[OPINION] Chop Down Current Tree Law

In the wake of last month’s storms — Isaias and an unnamed one that caused massive damage — many Westporters learned that if a neighbor’s tree lands on your property (or house), and you have not warned him or her about the danger, you are responsible for removing it.

And for repairing any damage on your property.

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Marliese Aguele writes:

The law that requires a neighbor to remove and pay for a fallen tree is most unfair. It puts the burden and expense on somebody else.

No more free rides. I wanat the law be changed immediately. Owners make no effort to pay, or offer any help. This is unacceptable to a neighbor, who takes care by trimming his own trees.

Because residents know they are not liable to pay for the removal of their fallen trees on the neighbor’s property, they have no incentive to take care of them.

Falling trees do not respect property lines.(Photo/John Kantor)

I have had personal experience. A friend lives in a small house near the beach, with a neighbor located on an elevated property behind him. She has refused for over 20 years to trim her tree. It gets larger every year. He is struggling financially. He constantly worries that should the huge tree fall, his house and cars will be destroyed, and maybe the lives of his family.

A property owner must be responsible to trim his trees regularly to avoid unfair arboreal problems, making it easier for the town to deal with overgrown branches entangled in communication and electric power lines, incurring major expenses to the town and heavy losses to its citizens.

With predictions of more frequent storms in the future, it is in the best interest for citizens to do their share, helping with an already stressed town budget.

I have decided, at great expense, to have several tall trees removed. I can no longer live with the fear, and alone, worrying if my trees should fall and destroy my home, or were to fall on a neighbor’s house.

It is time to change the law. Someone who owns a tree should be responsible for removing the debris, and pay for all damage caused to a neighbor’s property.

Roundup: Old Dominion, The Sun And The Moon, More


COVID kept the live audience away from last night’s 55th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

But a nationwide television audience watched Old Dominion walk off with 2 huge awards: Best Group and Best Song (“One Man Band”).

Country music may not be huge in Westport. But we’re hugely proud of Old Dominion. Lead guitarist Brad Tursi is a 1997 graduate of Staples High School, where he was known not as a musician, but as a soccer star. He’s in the far right in the clip below, wearing a flannel shirt.  (Hat tip: Claudia Bradley)

He’s the first musician shown, in the official “One Man Band” video too:


Staples High School sophomore Phoebe Miller took this picture yesterday evening. She says that smoke from the wildfires out west has drifted far east. It blocks the sun’s rays, making it appear much larger and more orange than usual.

(Photo/Phoebe Miller)


This news will brighten your day:

International Observe the Moon Night will be celebrated in Westport (and everywhere) on Saturday, September 26. The Westport Astronomical Society says the annual worldwide public event “encourages observation and appreciation of the moon.

“All are invited to observe the moon, learn about NASA planetary science and exploration, and celebrate cultural and personal connections to our nearest neighbor. All you need to do is look up!

This year the moon will be just past 1st quarter – a great phase for evening observation.

If the skies are clear, the WAS will open the dome to its observatory on Bayberry Lane. Telescopes will be available.

The WAS adds: “The giant satellite has been our constant companion for 4.5 billion years, and viewed by every human who ever walked the Earth. It’s one of the solar systems’ most remarkable objects, and is quite likely a major reason that life even exists on our planet.”

Amazing full moon at Compo Beach (Photo/Michael Tomashefsky)


Seen at Compo Beach. Beware!

(Photo/Les Dinkin)


Crank up The Machine!

The final Supper & Soul drive-in concert of 2020 features The Machine — a longtime internationally touring Pink Floyd-style band. The event — co-sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library — is set for Saturday, October 3 (7 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Tickets for the always-popular event are $150 per car (5-person maximum. They go on sale tomorrow (Friday, September 18) at 10 a.m. Click here to purchase.


And finally … in honor of International Observe the Moon Night (see above):

Wildfires Consume West; Westporters Help

Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost is used to the hundreds of calls his department handles: house fires, accidents on I-95 and the Merritt, false alarms.

As the town’s director of emergency management, he plans for and coordinates responses to hurricanes, blizzards and, now, a virus pandemic.

But he’s a professional. And as millions of acres burn out west, he and Deputy Chief Michael Kronick answered the call.

Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost, as a medical assistant in Colorado.

The pair are members of the Connecticut Interstate Wildfire Crew. It’s our contribution to a national mutual aid pact. Members help states on an as-needed basis, with any kind of weather event.

(And yes, Yost says, Connecticut has wildfires. The most recent were around 1940.)

This summer, Connecticut sent firefighters to several western states. Yost — who was posted to Idaho and Wyoming in 2016, and Montana in 2018 — went this year to Colorado, as a medical assistant.

Assistant Chief Kronick also served before, in California and Colorado.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Kronick in Colorado, 2 years ago.

Yost got the call this year at 11 p.m., on a Saturday. The next day, he was on a plane to Ft. Collins. The 100,oo0-plus acre Cameron Peak fire threatened homes, and the University of Colorado mountain campus. It is still only 4% contained.

Yost and his crew set up structure protection. They ran hoses and pumps, wrapped homes in preventive material, bulldozed lines and started back fires.

It’s nothing like fighting a Westport fire. “This is a long game, and a logistics war,”” Yost says. Feeding and supplying 1,000 firefighters takes as much coordination as the actual firefighting.

COVID complicated everything, of course. Rather than one central camp, firefighters were deployed to “spike” camps that reduced co-mingling.

For Yost, the opportunity to observe incident management was important too. He sat in on planning meetings, with the command staff. The insights he gained will serve him well in planning for, and reacting to, disasters here, he says.

Whatever they are.

No, those are not clouds. They’re part of Colorado’s Cameron Peak fire.

Optimum, Eversource: An Industry Insider’s Insights

It’s been more than a month since Tropical Isaias plunged Westport into darkness — and hammered our internet service too.

Opinions of public utilities like Eversource — and probably-should-be-regulated-as-a-public-utility like Optimum — have moved from rage to simmering anger. An “06880” story earlier this month about the cable monopoly drew 160 brutal comments. No one defended them.

Readers across the tri-state area described harrowing encounters with Optimum and its owner, Altice. Most spoke as dissatisfied customers.

Richard Guha speaks as an industry executive.

He’s lived in Weston twice, most recently since 1996. He’s worked as president of Reliant Energy in Houston, one of the nation’s largest combination utilities. Before that he was chief marketing officer of MediaOne in Boston — now part of Comcast, and the first to launch “broadband” in the world.

Eversource and Optimum’s response after Isaias was “disastrous,” he says. While losing power, phone and internet service is inconvenient — particularly because many area residents lack adequate cell phone reception to begin with — it can also be life-threatening.

Grove Point Road offered one example off Isaias’ devastation. (Photo/John Kantor)

Guha himself had to drive someone to the emergency room, because he could not call an ambulance.

He cites one example, from Lyons Plains Road. From August 4 through 24, he had a long series of frustrating encounters with Optimum. From setting up an appointment for cable reconnection to technicians who failed to show up for appointments, then appeared without the correct equipment, Guha found customer service lacking at every level.

Multiply that by thousands, and the problem is clear.

Based on Guha’s own experience — and confidential interviews with service technicians — he offers a peek behind the cable curtain.

In a drive to cut costs, Guha says, Optimum has reduced equipment and staff to “a bare minimum.” It’s sufficient for regular maintenance, but not for unusual repair loads.

For example, a few years ago there were 150 bucket trucks in Fairfield County. Now there are 10.

While much of the initial disconnections resulted from or had the same causes as power outages, he says, the reconnection process has been “staggeringly poor, inefficient and dishonest.”

Customer service representatives were so overloaded that not enough were available to answer phone calls for any reason. (“This may also have been deliberate,” he says, “to shield them from customer anger, and then quitting.”)

Customers were forced to send online messages — a huge challenge without internet — which allows a single representative to deal with multiple customers. Responses were slow.

Representatives did not seem to have a full picture of what was happening. Or they were too overloaded to look. Or they simply deflected questions, by making up answers.

Service technicians told Guha that when someone contacted Optimum to set up an appointment, the representative simply promised a slot — “to get the customer off for a few days.”

An Optimum email confirmed a service call — for the previous day.

Service techs were given calls to make with “little logic,” Guha reports. They were assigned too many calls to make each day. But there was no flexibility for them to call in and get reassigned.

Often the wrong equipment was sent to an address, even if the correct piece had been specified.

Eversource’s issues and inactions, meanwhile, are different. The best way to deal with power outages, Guha says, is to minimize them in the first place. Clearing trees and brush is the most important tool.

(Of course, much of Connecticut has too many shallow rooted trees, which are vulnerable to strong winds and rain. Guha suggests restrictions on tree planting in the state.)

When he was in the cable and energy businesses, most lines were laid in buried trenches. Trimming, however, was a priority.

It is expensive, and unpopular when it is happening. However, he notes, “over time it is more expensive to the local economy not to do it.”

The costs of not trimming trees — as shown here after Isaias, on Charcoal Hill Road — are high. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

Guha notes that putting in cables is also retroactive, particularly in wooded areas. However, he says, it pays the company back over time, in savings on maintenance and repairs. New technology can reduce the cost.

The biggest benefits lie in economic strength — and national security. “The vulnerability of infrastructure is extremely dangerous,” Guha warns, including health and risk to life.

Even at $1 million per mile, the cost of one F-35 would pay for 400,000 miles of trenching, he says.

He uses another military analogy. For Optimum and Eversource to cut their equipment so extensively is like the military saying, “We don’t need our tanks now, so we’ll get rid of them. If we have a war, we’ll get them back.”

Guha realizes that none of this is new. Everything he describes has been written about before.

Yet after every disaster, and every hearing, nothing happens.

“The same issue affects all physical infrastructure,” Guha says. “Whether it is roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, communication or energy, if it is not constantly improved, it steadily falls behind. Minimum maintenance is a recipe for disaster.”

Connecticut legislators have only limited immediate impact on utilities, he says. Regulators and franchising authorities have much more. However, “they often affiliate more closely with those they regulate than the customers they serve.”

Energy, cable and phone companies hire large staffs of regulator and government relations employees. Their job “is to get regulators to think the same way they do.

“They get paid to influence regulators, and can lose their jobs if they do not.

“They rarely lose their jobs.”

Pics Of The Day #1244

Nearly every day, it seems, someone emails me photos of clouds.

Most of them are interesting. But very few rise to the high, truly compelling bar this is the Pic of the Day.

Last night’s clouds, though, were legit amazing. And as proof that they were special: Several different readers submitted their shots. Here are a few:

Compo Beach Mobi-Mat … (Photo/Jeanine Esposito)

… and heading toward the cannons (Photo/Jeanine Esposito)

On Long Island Sound … (Photo/Cam Klein)

… and at Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

After The Deluge

Once again (and again and again), Westport is cleaning up from a strong storm.

Last night’s series of downpours did not deliver the devastation of previous rain and wind. A possible tornado thankfully never materialized.

Still, 42 customers remain without power this morning (down from a high of 650). A driver narrowly escaped tragedy when she was trapped on Wilton Road, after a tree tangled with wires crashed onto her car.

Here is a reminder of Mother Nature’s force …

Golf ball-size hail. (Photo/Adrian Mueller)

… and her beauty:

Route 57 and Lyons Plains Road. (Photo/Ilene Frost)

Another Day, Another Possible Tornado

It wasn’t Hurricane Laura. It wasn’t Tropical Storm Isaiais.

It was just another torrential thunderstorm — kind of like, oh, 48 hours ago.

With a tornado warning.

The first one moved through a few minutes ago. Another is expected at 6:15 p.m.

Clouds over Sherwood Mill Pond (Photo/Matt Murray)

Oh, yeah: A downed power line on Bridge Street cut power to over 1,400 customers around 4 p.m., without any wind or rain. Power was restored an hour or so later.

Rain and sun. (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

As we always say: At least it’s not a blizzard…

Weather Or Not

Just a few minutes before 6 p.m., this was the scene at Owenoke, from Compo’s South Beach:

But if you turned 180 degrees you saw this, over Cockenoe Island:

(Photos/Dan Woog)

Five minutes later, the Owenoke clouds prevailed. The skies opened up; the wind roared with Isaias-like ferocity.

Five minutes after that, it was all over. The sun came out everywhere.

A severe thunderstorm watch remains in effect though, until 10 p.m.

Friday Flashback #206

Confirmation that a tornado touched down in Westport during Tropical Storm Isaias sent “06880” reader/devoted postcard historian Seth Schachter scurrying to check his collection.

Sure enough, he found this — from 1900. The caption says: “Result of TORNADO at Main and Elm Streets, Westport, Conn.”

Between buildings that no longer exist and the downed trees, it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re seeing. But I’m pretty sure the view is looking north on Main Street. Elm Street would be off to the right. I think the white building at the end, with columns, still stands opposite Brooks Corner. Just before it is the current site of the 3-story Gap. What do you think?

Meanwhile, we’re left to wonder: 120 years ago, how long did it take Eversource to come?