CAPITAL REGION Paul Lent is one of the few people in Saratoga Springs today who is more concerned with handicapping the weather than the running of the Travers Stakes.
“If it doesn’t have the name Irene attached to it, I don’t know anything about it,” said Lent, director of Saratoga County Emergency Services.
That was the prevailing sentiment on Friday among Capital Region first responders, disaster professionals and government officials, who were bracing for winds in excess of 30 mph and more than five inches of rain from Hurricane Irene, which is expected to arrive late tonight and continue into Monday morning. The storm has the potential to cause flooding, power outages, the uprooting of trees and in some cases force motor vehicles off the road.
Vasil Koleci, an information technology officer and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said the Capital Region would begin to experience the storm around 6 p.m. today, with conditions worsening quickly, based on the latest tracking models Friday afternoon.
At a glance
With severe weather on the way, people are advised to remain in their homes. Other precautions include:
- If driving, avoid standing water.
- Refrain from doing laundry on Sunday.
- Report all power outages, do not touch downed power lines and stay out of flooded basements.
- Remember the needs of pets, such as food, identification and restraint.
- Have an evacuation plan that your entire family knows.
- Stock non-perishable food, medications and water for at least three days.
- Charge cellphones before Saturday night.
The state’s full hurricane preparedness plan is available at www.health.ny.gov, and the National Weather Service’s full supply kit list can be found at www.nhc.noaa.gov.
“We’re looking at deteriorating conditions later in the day [today]. Most of [the day] should be decent,” he said. “We’re going to see the winds pick up late [today] and early Sunday.”
Because areas along the East Coast will be hit hardest by Irene, which is likely to be categorized as a tropical storm by the time it makes it this far north, Koleci said the southern and eastern parts of the Capital Region will experience the harshest conditions. As for Fulton and Montgomery counties, he said, “Those areas are not going to be in the brunt of it. The winds are going to be strong, but not as strong as in Rensselaer or Albany [counties].”
Koleci said the Capital Region is especially prone to flooding in this instance because the ground is already soaked and he argued that it can’t hold much more water. Similar conditions existed when Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999, according to Koleci, who predicted that local bodies of water could begin flooding Sunday night.
Precautions being instituted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo were announced Friday after he convened an emergency session with his cabinet. His plans included prohibiting tandem, commercial and large vehicles on the Thruway in the event of sustained winds exceeding 45 mph and a contingency to close the Thruway if sustained wind speeds are more than 60 mph. Additionally, the state Department of Transportation has already begun preventive damage measures and is crafting a post-storm cleanup plan.
“We have moved quickly to initiate our emergency plans … and put into place one of the most aggressive activations of New York state government ever assembled in the face of a possible natural disaster,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We are fully committed, and we are preparing for the worst.”
The governor’s plans include the deployment of about 900 military personnel to coastal parts of the state, with involvement from 50 soldiers stationed in Queensbury and 30 soldiers stationed in Scotia.
The emergency declaration from Cuomo was followed shortly by President Barack Obama, who declared an ongoing emergency in New York and pledged significant federal relief toward protective and response efforts.
Judith Warner, director of the Schoharie County Emergency Management Office, said that office was in the process of alerting officials of their responsibilities and gauging all the possible outcomes. One particular concern is the Gilboa Dam, which is overseen by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which planned on releasing water from the Schoharie Reservoir before the storm.
Warner said there were no concerns about the dam’s integrity, which had just been checked by city officials after Tuesday’s earthquake. Warner did anticipate spillover from the dam, but characterized that as a common occurrence to a certain degree. As long as the rain fell over a 24-hour period, she said she was confident the dam could handle the water.
“We’re going to see how it is … because you never know,” Warner said. “Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best.”
In response to the imminent danger, the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York is currently in “call down” mode, where officials reach out to more than 2,500 regional volunteers in 17 counties to assess the organization’s readiness.
Caroline Boardman, a spokeswoman for the group, stressed that high winds could be the worst part of the storm. “People should clean up their yards” as a precaution, she said. “If there is anything that could be blown away. … These things should be put inside.”
Other tips from Boardman included amassing some cash reserves, filling up gas tanks, checking on friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, and making sure flashlights, batteries and a radio are handy and functioning. In the event that power outages might result from the storm, she said people should stock up on necessities to last a couple days, including water, non-perishable foods and medications.
In Schenectady, acting Mayor Gary McCarthy is asking for volunteers to meet at 10 a.m. today in Room 110 in City Hall to help the city prepare for Irene. Volunteers will be given pamphlets to distribute to neighbors, explaining what steps to take to prepare for the hurricane.
Residents are also being asked to check on elderly and vulnerable neighbors, which McCarthy is dubbing “adopt a neighbor.” City workers will also be present this morning to gather information about sick and elderly residents.
Kathy Desjardin, of Allerdice Hardware in Saratoga, said her store has seen a number of purchases in preparation for the storm since Thursday. “We have sold out of generators but one. Sandbags we’ve sold out of, [and] tube sand we’re out of,” she said.
There have also been some purchases, like batteries, generators and plywood, which Desjardin said were being taken to areas more at risk. “We’ve had a few consumers purchasing items to take to the coast for friends and relative,” she said, noting that her store is far enough inland to not be completely sold out of items. “But by the coast, forget about it.”
The demand for many of these goods has already begun, according to Mark Chandler, senior vice president of supply chain for Price Chopper. Chandler said the supermarket chain has had a hectic build up for the storm. “It’s certainly not another day in the park,” he said. “We’ve been working for three days once we understood the path of the storm.”
Chandler said shoppers want water, juice, milk, cereal, canned goods, hand-operated can openers and sandwich materials. Items needed during a power outage, like charcoal, matches, lighter fluid, coolers and ice are also “going really, really fast.”
“We’re seeing already, [Thursday and Friday], huge demand for a lot of items,” he said. “We’re seeing families come in and do their shopping early, maybe picking up an extra gallon of milk ... and adding to their baskets things they don’t have.”
Price Chopper should remain stocked and open during the storm, according to Chandler, as he predicted deliveries would continue through the weekend. He said 12 mammoth generators are waiting to be used in the case of a power outage.
In anticipation of the weather, many people who had travel plans on Sunday are trying to either move up their departures or move them back. Doug Myers, spokesman for Albany International Airport, said people have been trying to change their reservations.
“All the airlines were operating at or near capacity,” he said Friday. “People [are] trying to get out in advance of the storm.
Closures or cancellations as the result of the weather include the Washington County Fair on Sunday, the American Idol concert in Albany on Sunday night and the first day of classes at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The Sage Colleges on Monday.
None of Amtrak’s NorthEast Coast trains will be running Sunday, with severe reductions today. Additionally, boats are being pulled out of marinas all over the Capital
Region, with the South Shore Marina of Saratoga Lake getting its boats out by Saturday evening.
As of Friday evening, horse racing at the Saratoga Race Course was still being considered for Sunday, with a final decision to come as early as this afternoon or as late as tomorrow morning.