Dark forecast

For all the destruction and disruption caused by Sandy and her hurricane-force gusts, one aspect of the hybrid storm was a pleasant surprise.

As we were driving around after the storm pulled away, we were astonished to see that so many hearty and colorful leaves somehow survived the attack to brighten the landscape.

That could turn out to be a not-so-pleasant development, however, according to Ben Armstrong at PECO, still cleaning up from a record outage event.

The Sandy outage numbers are astounding. PECO's 850,000 beat the old record by better than 300,000.

It is hard to believe that as of today, 700,000 utility customers in New Jersey were still without power, and over 20,000 in PECO's territory.

One of the amazing aspects of Sandy was its toll on utility poles. In all, 463 PECO poles were snapped, said Armstrong, compared with 190 in Irene.

Usually, a snapped pole has been whacked by a tree, he said, but some of the broken poles were nowhere near trees.

One would think that Sandy took down anything that could have fallen, but that's not necessarily the case, says Armstrong.

All those leaves that survived the storm could spell trouble. The leaves would increase wind stress by providing more surface area for the winds to exploit.

The coming storm appears to have all the ingredients of a significant outage event, including the fact that gusts would be coming from the east; potentially signifcant rains, and even a threat of heavy, wet snow.

The snow threat would be for areas well north and west of the city; snow probably wouldn't stick around Philly.

And snow that did accumulate on tree branches would be loaded with water weight, although high winds could make it difficult for snow to gather on branches and electric wires.

A more widespread threat would come with those winds from the east, what the utility people call a counter-wind.

Trees are used to bending to the whims of prevailing winds from the west, but that makes them vulnerable to winds from the other direction.

Strong winds from the east are particularly hazardous when tree roots are saturated.

The flood threat in Shore towns where Sandy erased dune protection is a given, but don't be surprised if this turns out to be another big outage event.